Many years ago at a management training class the instructor went over the 4 stages of knowledge progression. I found it a reasonable perspective. They are:
- We don't know we don't know.
- We know we don't know.
- We don't know we know.
- We know we know.
I wrote about asking questions instead of simply providing answers a while ago. I think that works most effectively when you are helping someone move from stage 3 to stage 4. You know they know, but they don't realize it yet. A series of questions can help them come to the answer that they know and also help improve their confidence on the topic. Helping them reach the point of knowing they know. It is probably less effective with helping someone move between the earlier states because they often unable to answer your questions.
Helping move from stage 3 to stage 4 is important. It's only when you reach stage 4 that you have the confidence to help others on the subject. If you want your organization to grow, to become stronger, you have to not only mentor, but you have to build an organization of mentors. Moving people from not knowing what they know to being confident in what they know is a critical step in creating mentors.
Stage 1 is the one that is most interesting to me lately. We all start there. Every time the lads on Top Gear start a build project they characterize it with the definitive, "How hard can it be?" statement. Every episode ends with them landing firmly in stage 2, realizing exactly how hard it can be. Moving from stage 1 to stage 2 can be a very humbling experience. It involves accepting you don't know something that you think you do know. The key distinction between stage 1 and 2 is that in stage 2 we clearly understand that we aren't expert in a topic, while in stage 1, we believe we are.
If the transition is humbling, then it requires us to set aside our egos. To accept that we are fallible and need to open our minds to the possibility that we are, frankly, clueless about the topic. It's incredibly important though because until you can accept that, you can't move to stage 2 and there is no path to stage 4 that doesn't pass through stage 2. Someone recently shared with me, the difference between true geniuses and those who aren't is a true genius knows the material but doubts it while others don't know the material but are sure. Stage 3 vs stage 1.
The entire point of this article though is to encourage all of us to be open to the fact that we are in stage 1 on many topics. We all know somebody who is there on a subject and at the same time has too much ego to even be approached on the fact that they are in stage 1, not stage 4. It's unfortunate because it blocks that person from ever reaching stage 1. There may be little you can do to help them, but you can help yourself. Open your mind to the possibility of what stage you are in for a topic. Have you truly made the journey to the knowledge? If you believe that you just know something through divine inspiration, there's a good chance that you're stuck in stage 1, not stage 4.