Knowledge is power and there are two types of knowledge that you don’t know. The first type is the knowledge that you know that you don’t know. The second type is the knowledge that you don’t know you don’t know. In the age of the Internet, the first type of knowledge is easy to get.
Using Google to acquire knowledge is a core competency for every knowledge worker. If you want to compete successfully in your field, you need to use Google effectively. There’s no way around it. In order to find what you are looking for, you need to formulate effective search queries. Eventually, you might need to formulate good questions to ask people online, on Q&A sites such as Quora and Stack Overflow. Both skills depend on a good grasp of language and terminology.
The second type of knowledge you don’t know has a much bigger impact than the first type. Right at this moment, there is life-changing information out there and you don’t know what it is. You don’t even know that it exists. If you knew that it existed and you knew what it was, you would have googled it. This is the type of knowledge that gives you an a-ha moment when you come across it. We can call it an insight. So, the question is how are you going to acquire the knowledge that you don’t know you don’t know.
How to Learn What You Don’t Know You Don’t Know
There are two ways to acquire the knowledge that you don’t know you don’t know. The first one is to learn from other people. The way you do that is by consuming their content and following their classes. Nowadays, people in the IT community underestimate a college degree, let alone a masters or a PhD degree. I disagree. In several cases, theoretical knowledge at a college level computer science class saved me in my industrial experience. There’s no way you can discover that kind of theoretical knowledge by yourself going through the daily grind of industrial work, unless you are some kind of genius.
The second way to learn what you don’t know you don’t know is to experiment and research by yourself or with your team. However, don’t get too excited. This is not a replacement for the first method. Sure, instead of having a year of formal education you can have ten years of field experience and learn some of the stuff that is already covered. However, that is not a guarantee that you will learn all the essentials. You might still be missing some very critical information that would make a huge difference, or the lack of which could get you in trouble.
The best way to go is of course the combination of both. By consuming what others have produced you only know what others know, which can be more than enough to get very successful and rich, because not everybody is processing the same information in the same way and not everybody would have the same amount of knowledge.
By developing your own knowledge through experimentation, you create new knowledge that didn’t exist before. That is a competitive advantage that no one has at the moment. But solely relying on your own experience and not taking advantage of what other people have already discovered doesn’t make sense either. That’s why when you start a PhD program, you are required to take some classes and you start your research with an extensive literature survey in your field.
Knowledge is power and you need to learn continuously to stay ahead of the competition. Google and Q&A sites are indispensable sources of knowledge. Using them effectively is one of the core competencies of the knowledge workers of today. That’s required but not sufficient. You also need to learn what you don’t know you don’t know. There are two ways to do that, consuming other people’s content and experimenting by yourself. Both are necessary to improve your competitive advantage. Just because everything is available online today, it doesn’t mean everything is a Google search away. The good old books and courses are still an indispensable part of acquiring life-changing knowledge.