Knowledge is power.

How many times have we heard this one? It’s one of the battle cries of our
society. It’s an idea so obvious, so undeniable, that few ever give it a second thought. We don’t just seek knowledge, we worship it. Even Socrates, a wise man if ever there was one, said, “There is only one good, knowledge, and one evil, ignorance.”

If only it were that simple. The truth is that Socrates was wrong, and here’s why.
First, the pursuit of knowledge often becomes an end in itself. Too many people are living their lives as if they’re just “one secret away” from being able to take action. One secret, one book, one seminar, one whatever away from having the knowledge it’s going to take for them to succeed. Then, and only then, will they attempt to do the things they wish to do with their lives. Of course, they never quite achieve the state of knowledge they’re seeking. Why? Because it doesn’t exist.

In his book If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him Sheldon Kopp points out that “All important decisions must be made on the basis of insufficient data.” Notice that he said all important decisions, not some, many, or even most. All of them. If we take this reasoning a step further, we can easily infer that all endeavors we undertake must be made in the same way—based on insufficient data. In other words, no matter how much we study, prepare, or practice, some degree of ignorance is unavoidable, and accepting this is what separates those who overcome their ignorance from those who are eaten up by it.

Second, knowledge can actually destroy your power. Yes, destroy it. A few years ago, I had a conversation with a very successful entrepreneur. When I asked him to what he attributed his success, he said, without hesitation, “Ignorance.” Yes, ignorance. He said that he was grateful he didn’t know how difficult his climb to the top was going to be before he began. If he had known, he would have never begun. For him, knowledge isn’t power. Ignorance is. He’s not alone. I’ve asked the same question of other successful people, and almost without fail, ignorance ranks high on their lists of success attributes. Whether they knew it explicitly or not from the onset of their endeavors, on some level these people understood that “too much knowledge” could destroy their will to act. If they had entertained all the negative possibilities that could have befallen them before taking action, they would never have taken action.

Third, knowledge isn’t the sole, or even primary, determining factor in man’s ability to succeed in life. To elevate knowledge above such qualities as drive, resilience, awareness, cunning, and the like is, ironically, the height of ignorance. Dr. Christopher Hyatt, in the introduction to his deliciously irreverent book, The Psychopath’s Bible, puts it this way:

There is a lot of slop in life. You can make a ton of mistakes, be the biggest screwup and still survive and even succeed. Don’t let anyone fool you about this. There are millions-billions-of people who believe all kinds of lies and still do well. Some people believe the truth and are utter failures. Life is tolerant, even stupidly so.

You might want to read that one again, maybe even put it in a frame above your desk as I have done, because it’s a lot closer to reality than Socrates’s pithy quote. Where does this leave us? How do we satisfy our desire “to know” without losing the inherent power our ignorance often provides us?

Here’s how I do it: I remind myself that no matter how certain I may feel before making a decision, it doesn’t negate the fact that I’m basing it on insufficient data, and then, I make it anyway. When others question my decisions and ask how I intend to achieve something I set out to do, I reply, “I don’t know. Let’s find out.”

In other words, I practice making commitments with full awareness that I’m making them without any promise that my decision is sound or that my desired outcome is certain.

I am not suggesting that we abandon our quest for knowledge, but I am suggesting that we do not make our quest for knowledge replace our quest for achievement. To do so does not empower us; it cripples us. No, knowledge is not power. Neither is ignorance. There is, however, a balance between the two, and our power lies in finding it. The surest way to do that is not to delay taking action until one is “wise” enough to succeed but to act now and learn along the way. After all, if there is something we must learn in order to succeed, we are more apt to learn it by living life and making mistakes than by preparing to live life and hoping to avoid them.

** This article is one of 101 great articles that were published in 101 Great Ways to Improve Your Life. To get complete details on “101 Great Ways to Improve Your Life”, visit http://www.selfgrowth.com/greatways.html

Author's Bio: 

Blair Warren is a television producer, writer, marketing consultant, and voracious student of human nature. He is the creator of “The Forbidden Keys to Persuasion” e-class, the author of The No-Nonsense Guide to Enlightenment, and is currently working on his next book, Spontaneous Persuasion: Getting What You Want By Simply Being Who You Are. To read more of Blair’s material and to get more information on his work, visit his Web site at http://www.blairwarren.com.