The Problem with Experience, Intellect and Self-Assurance

September 3rd, 2010 by Nick Jacobs Leave a reply »

I received this quote from a friend today:

He who knows only his own side of the case knows little.
His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them.

But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side,

if he does not so much as know what they are,
he has no ground for preferring either opinion.”

–John Stuart Mill, British philosopher from his classic On Liberty, 1859

Man Looking in Mirror - Recursive - Nick Jacobs, FACHEMy new friend, Dan, has been helping me by holding up a rather small mirror, and suggesting that I explore me in that looking glass.  For the past two years, my patterns have not changed appreciably.  My work day starts very early and typically ends very late.  During those working hours, it has been my custom to continue to pursue those imaginative, creative inventions, ideas, and interventions that can help to change lives, businesses, and futures in a very positive way.  My enthusiasm for these discoveries, however, seems to get me into trouble, because I’m always trying to provide answers before anyone asks me questions.

Everywhere we go people are selling us something.  We are being inundated with opportunities to try something new, something different, something wonderful that will change our lives. We not only become callous to these approaches, we become cynical and sometimes very negative toward them.  Hence, when I try to explain that there really is plenty of money available to us to add those services and to create the type of environment that we know the Baby Boomers and their kids would love, the push back begins.

In fact, Dan held up his hand and said, “Put your hand against mine.”  Within seconds we were pushing on each other’s hands.  It’s a natural thing.  We see the hand and begin to push back on it.  Our experiences, our intellectual capacity, and our self-assurance all work against us as we assume that “we have the answers,” and that no matter what is on the table, you have experience and knowledge that allows you to counter its winning characteristics.

Dan suggested that I begin to approach things differently. He suggested that I stop telling people all of the details of my incredible discoveries and allow them to tell me where their pain resides. Allow them to tell me what hurts. Then, suggest some of the marvelous potential cures that have been so much a part of my research over the past few years.  Maybe we should all listen to Dan?

As CEO’s (and former CEO’s), we all know a lot. We’ve experienced a lot, and if we weren’t fairly self-assured, we wouldn’t have gotten the job in the first place. So, maybe, just maybe, instead of always trying to fix everything before we really understand the details, maybe it would be good –really good to just listen for awhile.

Early aircraft listening device, Bolling AFB 1921

Early aircraft listening device, Bolling AFB, 1921



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