I was talking recently with someone who was bemoaning the need to be always informed. It made me realise just how unfashionable it has become, when asked for one’s views on a subject, to simply say “I don’t know”. The sheer volume of news and information that bombards us in our daily personal and business life is overwhelming. Whereas in the past we had newspapers and face-to-face meetings to keep us informed and “in the loop”, now we have such a volume of in-coming messages that no amount of aggregators and mediators can filter effectively and help us to make sense of it all. And yet we expect our leaders, in business and elsewhere, to not only be aware of what is going on but also to have an informed and considered view on every subject deemed important.
To be ignorant, it seems, is to be outside the circle of movers and shakers. Far better, it seems, to play as amateur diplomats or use one’s personal experience as the basis, for instance, for a radical reformation of the health service. It brings to mind the story Piers Morgan himself tells of how he used his time on the flight over to the US for a job interview with Rupert Murdoch to read, cover to cover, The Economist. Clearly impressed by the 28-year old’s grasp of global current affairs, Murdoch appointed Morgan editor of the News of the World. It was George Bernard Shaw who said: “Beware of false knowledge; it is more dangerous than ignorance.”
It is interesting how many people try to assert themselves by what they know. They still feel that knowledge is power and that it is better to be informed than uninformed. But two points come to mind. The first is that, as Will Rogers said, everybody is ignorant only on difference subjects. The second is the enormous gulf between information, knowledge, and wisdom. And so please indulge me as I quote, yet again, T S Elliot’s marvellous lines from The Rock:
Where is the life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
Finding true wisdom can be tricky. Often it is not to be found hidden under piles of data and in bits of information. Wisdom tends to emerge from the silence within. And so rather than try and find the answers by being constantly connected and frantically searching, perhaps it would be more fruitful to take time to switch off. There are an increasing number of organisations who are making mindfulness a core part of their operation, with executives and leaders being trained to invest time in quietening the mind. Through that silence they often find themselves better able to make considered judgements and ones based not on the superficiality of the cacophony but on the stillness of the quiet. Likewise, true leaders demonstrate their learning not by trumpeting what they know but by listening and asking good questions. Frankly, passing on news and views often merely adds to the existing white noise. It would be much better if more people admitted what they don’t know, and then took time to let their true thoughts materialize. After all, as Mark Twain said: “It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”