Spending your life in academia doesn’t promise wisdom, any more than working in the trenches guarantees knowledge. In the latest Tough Things First podcast, Ray Zinn explores the need for balance and how making a weakness a strength is important for success.
Rob Artigo: Rob Artigo here, your guest host, for another edition of the Tough Things First podcast. I’m a writer and investigator in California. Being invited back always great, Ray. How are you you doing?
Ray Zinn: I’m doing fine. Glad you’re able to join with me again today on a nice podcast.
Rob Artigo: I have this quote from Konrad Lorenz, he’s an Austrian zoologist, a scientist who looked at behavioral patterns in animals, and he was also known for his work on the roots of aggression which sounds kind of interesting to me, but we’re not going to talk about that stuff. What I’m going to get into is just this quote here. It stood out to me and I thought maybe you’d be interested in talking a little bit about this, so here’s the quote: “Scientists are people who know more and more about less and less until they know everything about nothing.” Do you agree with this statement?
Ray Zinn: Another kind of an old adage as you would, a person that is a jack of all trades and a master of none. That’s what Lorenz is talking about is just that if we become so diversified in our capabilities, then we don’t really master any of them because we just don’t take the time to become the best at any particular area.
Now what happens with some knowledgeable people is they think that seeking knowledge is more important than applying wisdom. Knowledge without wisdom is worthless because you have to use good wisdom as you now apply the knowledge that you have. The key to learning is to gain wisdom at the same time as you gain knowledge.
Rob Artigo: Brilliant. I really appreciate that thought there. I was really thinking of how can we be analytical and scientific in the work that we’re doing in our businesses without falling into the trap and we’ve referred to silos often on this show. How can we be analytical and scientific in our work without falling into that silo trap and in fact, becoming a jack of all trades master of none?
Ray Zinn: We’re back to the problem of really what, what is our goal. If we’re just gaining knowledge without trying to understand how to apply that knowledge, then we’re not going to really grow. It’s back to that master of none. We become so expert but not masterful as they say. Back to that saying, jack of all trades and a master of none, master of none is because we lack the wisdom to be able to connect the dots together and see how these pieces fit together. That’s when we become more effective, as managers or as creative scientists as you would. Be careful with … If you’re just going to be getting knowledge for the sake of knowledge and never develop that wisdom and how to apply that knowledge, you’re bound determined to fail.
Rob Artigo: I think of academics on college campuses. I’ve run into some that I’ve felt were so isolated on the campus and have been in academia their entire lives and careers that they know … They have no wisdom about the world. They only know the quest for knowledge or whatever studies they’ve worked on on campus, they tend to feel like that’s the only world there is and then therefore they’re not really open to anything.
Ray Zinn: My ex CFO was down, he’s a graduate of UCLA, and he was down last weekend at a reunion for his class. It was a big group and of course all the professors were there and they were all mingling together. Robert made a comment to me that I thought was pretty good. He said that what’s interesting is that none of these professors have ever worked in industry, that primarily their experience has been in teaching and developing curriculum for teaching, but they haven’t really had a chance to apply that knowledge so that application of knowledge is really wisdom. That’s the part that I see missing so much in academia is that they have the maybe … Double doctorates or whatever in a particular field, but they’ve never had to apply it. Anybody can read a recipe book, but unless you made that cake or made that bread before, you’re not going to be successful at it.
Rob Artigo: Yeah, and that happens in all levels of the kinds of creativity, the creative projects we learn in school or concepts, so whether it’s art or music, acting, writing, engineering, designing, coding, those things, it’s true across the board. You think there’s a danger of this mentality when you’re in a business as a manager big and small, that there’s a danger of this at all levels? In other words, when you’re first starting out, maybe [inaudible 00:06:05] starter program, they’re starting out with very small businesses or maybe just talking about ideas but then you, maybe in the last decade with [inaudible 00:06:15], you were way up there in the business level in Silicon Valley. Is there a danger of this happening at all levels of business practices?
Ray Zinn: Sure. Oh yeah. It can happen any time. Look at HP. They’re a large company, look how many CEOs they’ve gone through. Yes, it can happen at any level, any size company, and that’s the difference between a good CEO and a not so good CEO is their ability to keep their team to operating and focusing on the goal or mission of the company.
Rob Artigo: Thank you Ray. Join the conversation at ToughThingsFirst.com. Please reach out to Ray with your questions. He could even answer some here on the Tough Things First podcast for you. Your questions and comments are always welcome. You can also follow Ray on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, and of course, you can get the text of Ray’s book Tough Things First and his other book, The Zen of Zinn. Thanks again Ray.
Ray Zinn: Yeah. Please read The Zen of Zinn. That will give you some real insights of what you can work on as an individual to help you grow in your particular endeavor.