Yes, I know that…

We have all met people who are ever eager to interrupt you, not let you say what you want, and rather pompously proclaim: “Yes, I know that”. I am sure you must have felt the same frustration that I feel when I hear these words. If you know it all: what is there for me to speak? is my opinion of no consequence? what am i doing in this interaction? does discussion have no value?

As a college student, many, many years ago I had read a short story of Somerset Maugham entitled : Mr Know-All. The setting is on a ship. There is person who everyone soon comes to dread as he is always holding forth, having the last word, and generally showing off his knowledge and expertise on every subject imaginable!! Of course he is well read and knowledgeable. But the stance is that I am smarter and I know more than you, him , and all others…combined !!! Obviously he wears his welcome super thin, and no one wants him at their dining table: as they know only Mr Know_All will speak, and others have to only listen.

No one likes such a person: but if we think back do we not have such people in our own social circles? Full of themselves, pompous to the core, these people rough shod over all others in their groups. They obviously looooove the sound of their voice and hold forth ad infinitum. God help you, if you happen to inherit a boss who is like this. Gone are the days when a Boss is expected to now all answers and “tell” his team. Today’s successful bosses are facilitators who will ask the right questions and let the answers and ideas flow from the team. This empowers and energizes the team and enables them to give their best. But the Know-All Boss is never in the “ask” mode. Or worst, if due to some guidance from his own Mentor, the Boss asks the question: Lo and Behold! he quickly goes forward to answer his own questions. Even if some doggedly determined subordinate tries to get an idea or suggestion in, the Know All boss will hasten to interrupt and takeover the point and make it his own or show the flaws and difficulties with the idea which finally ends in shutting up the poor subordinate. Tell me truly: how many times have we found ourselves in this situation, unable to get in a word edge-ways as our Boss knows it all!!!???

On a lighter note, had read a joke: My wife is just like Google, she never lets me complete a sentence. A la Google, she has multiple suggestions ready already!!! Wives, Mothers, Fathers, Bosses, Teachers all use their “pre-eminence” and superiority to stop your thought process as they always think they know what you want to say. And your story,your version, your truth often remains untold.

In Siemens we had a very smart Factory Manager. Super intelligent and capable, technical whiz. Always thought 3 steps ahead of the rest of us. And so he was perpetually guilty of using the famous three words “I know that” ; but, unlike their more famous cousin-three-words (I Love You), these words made enemies for him. People always thought he did not care for others and did not carry his team with him and resultantly, despite his super intelligence, he never grew in the company hierarchy. Organizations have no jobs for Supermen today. In the interdependent world, we need team players. As soon as you say “I know that” new learning and creative thinking stops. In today’s VUCA world I have to learn new things every day. New ways to solve age old problems: creative ways to resolve emerging issues and innovative approaches to change frontiers of knowledge: all these require you to stay humble and never say “I know that”. I know that is static: while today’s problems ( and their solutions) are dynamic.

Lord Tennyson’s Ulysses begins by saying : “much have I seen and known” : an apt paraphrase for “I know that”. But Ulysses knows that this not enough: he goes on:-
“Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravell’d world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.”
Be hungry for new experiences and knowledge as tomorrow’s solutions lie in that gleaming, un-travelled world. Be open: you have not seen it all.

I began with Maugham’s Mr Know All story. So let me tell you how it ends. Our Mr Know All is at one dinner table one night: and holding forth as is his wont. And showing off to others, how he knows it all. He looks at a pearl necklace worn by a lady on the table and compliments her for the classic, natural pearls. He opines that their rarity and purity is such that the necklace must be very, very expensive. He advises her to be very careful of that piece of jewelery. The lady’s husband is not amused. He says his wife bought those pearls from a village fair and they have no value at all. Mr Know All is taken aback. He says all his knowledge and learning is at stake and he knows they are very, very valuable pearls: costing thousands of ponds sterling. The lady is flushing and uncomfortable. She says she has a bill somewhere which shows that the necklace cost her just a pound and a half at a village fair, and she can show the bill. All retire for the night: Mr Know All in a most perturbed state and the couple most flustered. In the dark night, the lady searches out Mr Know All to tell him that the pearls are indeed genuine and most expensive. But they were gifted to her by her paramour. And obviously she cannot let her husband know about her lover and her infidelity. Next morning at breakfast Mr Know All goes upto her table and accepts to her husband and her that he was wrong. The pearls are indeed worthless!! And apologizes for his “mistake” in judging them.

Mr Know Alls of today must temper their knowledge and experience with the heart and humility shown by Maugham’s protagonist. Even when you know the answer, practice saying: I don’t know how to solve this problem. Eat the humble pie and ask for others to help. Seek their opinions and inputs. Let others shine and take credit. Don’t ever, ever say “I know that”.

I am proud that I know nothing, can you help please: vikas