The Examined Life
“Hola. ¿Qué tal?”
“Bien. ¿ y tu?”
Paul and I were sixteen years old and had taken high school Spanish for a year. We called each other every night on the phone and spoke to each other in our new language. More than anything we wanted to test our skill with a real Spanish speaking person, but we did not know any. Then we got the idea to have dinner at a Mexican restaurant. For two boys who had never dined out without their parents, this was a big adventure. We were so motivated that when we made reservations, we asked to be seated with a waiter who could not speak English.
What motivated us? Knowledge. We made the same discovery that led Sir Francis Bacon to make his famous quote in 1597, “Knowledge is power.” We were empowered by what we had learned, and it gave us the confidence to take a risk we would never have taken before.
By the end of dinner we found out we didn’t know nearly as much as we thought we did, but the important thing was that our knowledge, albeit meager, moved us to action.
It is the same reason that we find seminars and lectures so motivating – because we acquire new insights in a relatively brief period of time that we can act on right away. If the information is good, we can’t wait to put it to work making our lives better and our jobs easier.
Knowledge also motivates us because it enables us to be more inventive. Many new innovations are the result of two or more existing ideas synthesized into a new one. Creative thinkers regularly expose themselves to new learning experiences, and to different viewpoints. With each new experience, they create new synapses – electrical connections between the nerve cells – in their brains. This gives them more data to draw from when they are looking for solutions.
My son recently asked me why his school required him to learn to play a musical instrument. I explained to him that it was stimulating parts of his brain he would not have used otherwise. I told him that even if he chose not to continue playing the instrument as an adult, that the knowledge he acquired today may serve him in the future in some way that is presently unknown to him.
Innovators are known for their ability to think outside of the box, but more than anything it is their broad-based knowledge that gives them the courage to challenge accepted beliefs. The most successful innovators are those who make the acquisition of knowledge part of their lifestyle.
Greek philosopher Socrates fully understood that learning is a lifelong process. When he was found guilty of teaching his students to question authority, he was given a choice of punishment: death or exile. He chose death, stating, “The unexamined life is not worth living,”
Knowledge, however, is more than just the accumulation of information. It has to be used, applied, and manipulated in some fashion. Automobile manufacturing innovator, Henry Ford, illustrated this point during a civil trial in which he sued a Chicago newspaper for libel. The paper had referred to him as an “ignorant pacifist.” At the trial, the defendant’s lawyer asked Ford a series of questions designed to prove that he was indeed ignorant. Questions such as “When was the American Revolutionary War?” and “How many soldiers did the British employ?”
Eventually Ford became irritated by the questions and remarked, “I can summon to my aid men who can answer any question I desire to ask concerning the business to which I am devoting most of my efforts. Why should I clutter up my mind with general knowledge.”
Seek out knowledge that empowers you, and let it give you the confidence and courage to be more and do more.
Robert Evans Wilson Jr. is a motivational speaker and humorist. He works with companies that want to be more competitive and with people who want to think like innovators. For more information on Robert's programs please visit www.jumpstartyourmeeting.com.