Archives for posts with tag: Knowledge

I often qualify my answers to questions. It helps the questioner, I think, but also covers me to a degree.

One of the qualified answers I use most often is ‘not to my knowledge.’

If I’m asked something and I definitively know the answer, I’ll give my answer, pure and unadorned.

If I’m not definitively sure the answer to what I’m being asked is, I’ll append it with a ‘to my knowledge’. I realise this is somewhat redundant. After all, if I don;t mention them, who else’s knowledge were you expecting me to draw on?

My point when I answer this way, and the point I make now, is that in some cases you won’t have perfect knowledge, or it would take you too much time or effort to make it worth acquiring.

In this instance you go with what you know, and you move on.

Interestingly, one unintended output of constructing this post is realising that I hardly ever say ‘yes, to my knowledge.’ It’s almost always used with the negative response. Is this significant? Yes, possibly. Is it worth extending this post to explore why? No, not to my…anyway, you get the picture I think.

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It was Donald Rumsfeld’s phrased response to a White House question in 2002 that was to provide him with an excellent legacy and the title of a book. He distinguished between things we know we know, things we know we don’t know, and the unfathomable things that we don’t know we don’t know.

These are otherwise known – if you pardon the overused word – as the known knowns, the known unknowns and unknown unknowns.

I was tasked the other day with making sure the US version of a website was accurate, not just in terms of spelling and phrasing, but also used the correct terminology. My realisation that I had  not used the correct word for the US audience had already caused quite a bit of re-work and prompted a detailed pass through the US website to catch any further inaccuracies.

The problem was, you had to have worked extensively in that industry to know what the correct name was in the US, or whether they used the same descriptor as their UK friends.

So there were terms that I knew I knew, and the ones that I knew I didn’t know. Unfortunately, there were also bound to be terms that I didn’t know that I didn’t know, and they wouldn’t be spotted until it was too late. It’s the unknown unknowns that get you in business, as in many other things.

It’s bad enough having unknown unknowns in a fairly niche website with a few thousand visitors a month. Imagine having them for matters affecting entire countries and global relationships. Nasty.

Ah, it’s a terribly fine line sometimes. A coin toss if you will. A little knowledge can be all you need to get you started, get some forward momentum and learn as you go. Sometimes it’s all the time you have, otherwise you miss the boat.

Then again, it’s not coincidental that we use the phrase ‘enough to be dangerous’.

A couple of decades ago, a friend of a friend of mine went to live with a Spanish-speaking family to improve his basic language skills. In his first week there, they went out to dinner together. The daughter was 17. During the course of the conversation something was said to make her blush. He wanted to ask her if she was embarrassed.

Unfortunately, he didn’t know the Spanish for embarrassed so took a guess. Worse still, his effort – embarazada – means pregnant. Not good. The father went apoplectic and he had to leave the family shortly thereafter.

Knowing enough cuts both ways. Ask yourself this, do you feel lucky? 🙂

Here’s a pretty obvious thought for you: write about what you know.

It’s the advice that would be novelists always receive, and in fact it applies to anyone in the creative space.

Once in a while you get insights from the really good writers into how this applies to them. I remember Ricky Gervais giving the perfect illustration of this from when he was a budding writer at school, and clearly it has served him well from that moment on.

I recently finished reading an early crime thriller by American author Michael Connelly. It was his first book featuring the detective Harry Bosch. The Bosch series is now at about 20-plus and growing. At the end of the book, Connelly explained how his eponymous character came about, and it was essentially the melding of 3 or 4 important influences on him when he was growing up. As simple as that.

It’s the same for business of course. Write about you know. Otherwise, you’ll be found out. If you don’t know, find out and get the facts, so you do know what you’re talking about.

I find that when I’m researching something that’s new to me, so that I can write compellingly about it, the more people I speak to the better, up to a point. It’s like a reverse onion. With every new person you talk to, you get a new layer, a fresh perspective, a different angle on what you thought you knew, until you have as full a picture as you’re going to get without the decreasing marginal returns of going to more people.

Then you can write, because you know.