The illusion of knowledge

January 24, 2023

The illusion of knowledge

“The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is an illusion of knowledge.” — Stephen Hawking

You’ve probably heard it said before, “Do not fully trust what you know.” Often, we overestimate our knowledge of things. We believe that our perceived reality is the only possible truth. However, when tested, what we know or believe might not necessarily be the truth.

Not only is absolute trust in our knowledge fallible, but it also holds us back from the desire to know more. To learn new things. When we think we know it all, what is the point of curiosity?

But our memories fail us. Even when we’ve spent years devoted to studying our expertise, we can forget. And when we don’t spot those mental gaps because we believe in our illusion of knowledge, it can lead to serious flaws in our designs and decisions.

The age of technology, with vast information readily available at our fingertips, also leads us to believe that what we discover from search engines is an extension of our knowledge. Sometimes, this arrogance manifests in how we work alongside our colleagues or team, especially leaders and managers.

We mistakenly believe that our co-workers' knowledge and contribution to the project are our own, and this can cause several problems that could affect work culture. When we take credit for the contributions of others, we fail to give acknowledgment and praise where it is due. We can become arrogant—a trait that is generally undesirable and detrimental in a healthy work culture. It also damages a healthy collaboration and work relations.

On the flip side, the illusion of knowledge can also result in us taking other people’s opinions for granted. We believe that we alone know what is correct, and so we shut out others’ valuable input. Instead of tackling a problem or situation from several perspectives, we limit ourselves to what we know and believe.

It is also possible that we don’t know what we don’t know. We might have ample knowledge about a certain topic, but remain unaware of its other aspects. When we are so confident in what we know, we fail to explore whether there is more to discover about it.

Another important thing to consider is, knowledge isn’t everything. Knowledge is the accumulation of information gained from learning and experience. While it is important, it is incomplete on its own. In order for knowledge to work for you, you need the wisdom to apply the theories and put them into practice. And it isn’t just doing, but doing effectively.

In life, and in business, it is important to learn new things, gain new experiences, and attain wisdom from applying what you know. It also takes a little bit of courage and a lot of curiosity to take what you know, and what you’ve accomplished, and try new things to make it even better.

That is how you innovate and continue to grow. 

Thanks for reading “A Brilliant Tribe.”