I worked in Japan for ten years and during that time I was forced to learn as much about Japanese culture as possible to be effective. Of the 50 or 60 countries where I have worked, Japan is the most different from the U.S. or western cultures. The reasons for this are multiple--religion, history, folklore, etc. Trying to understand the Japanese better led me to a realization about learning complex subjects. There are three stages to learning:
- I don't know anything
- I know everything
- I have a lot more to learn
I was always amazed at the number of foreigners in Japan who were stuck in stage 2. Recently I realized that a lot of failing entrepreneurs are stuck in stage 2. Areas where failing entrepreneurs are prone to claim complete knowledge typically include:
- Financing (because they have had to raise so much capital)
- Competitive landscape (because the competition is not very good)
- Legal agreements (because they have read so many agreements)
If you find yourself frequently saying "I know that" or "I know all about that" you may be stuck in phase 2.
A recent example may make the point clear. An entrepreneur had raised $20 million in debt and equity over the years to keep his business afloat. A NY investment bank offered him a convertible bond financing. When I started asking him questions, he responded "I know all that". Convertible bonds (bonds that convert into equity at the option of the bond holder) are some of the most complex securities I have seen and this entrepreneur who had never issued them knew all about them.
Albert Einstein said,"Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it." Knowledge and wisdom are different, but I think that Einstein would agree that knowledge is also a life long process.
A previous post on learning is here.