Why Knowing Stuff Doesn’t Really Matter
It’s not that important to know things.
Two things are far more important than what you know. What you can learn, and what you know you don’t need to know. Maybe I’ll write a bit more about the importance of being able to learn another time, but today’s post is about knowing what you don’t need to know.
We’re surrounded by information. Every new environment is jam-packed with people, assumptions, objects, ideas, processes, rules (written and unwritten), and data. The vast majority of it is not necessary for you to achieve what you want to achieve in that environment. But a handful of things are absolutely indispensable. That is why the most valuable skill for success in diverse circumstances might be the ability to quickly identify what doesn’t matter. Discern what is not of fundamental importance and ignore it.
Nearly everything taught in schools can be ignored. So can nearly everything in a government or HR training video. These are the easy ones. Most people can intuitively gather from a young age that these things are unnecessary to successfully navigating the world (though harsh punishments may induce them to pay just enough attention to avoid manufactured pain). It gets harder when you enter a social scene, family party, or workplace. It’s harder still if you want to be an entrepreneur and enter the vast market with no blueprint.
The most successful and contented people I know are brilliant at being ignorant. They are not stupid people nor are they unable to learn almost anything of interest or value to them. But they are conscious of their chosen ignorance of the vast majority of facts and subjects and skills. They know what they don’t need to know and they don’t waste effort trying to learn it.
This typically requires genuine humility and self-confidence. Most people feel pressure to know a lot of useless stuff because it will save them the embarrassment of ever appearing to not know something. This is ridiculous and sad. Someone without broad swaths of conscious ignorance in many areas is usually wasting a lot of time and stressing over people-pleasing without ever gaining much self-knowledge.
There is no inherent value in knowledge of a fact. When you enter a new situation the limiting factor to getting the most value out of it is not how much you can learn, but how much you can identify that you don’t need to learn.
This is the other side of the 80/20 rule. Sometimes figuring out your 20% — what activities you will get the vast majority of your return on — is too hard. It’s sometimes easier and no less important to identify the 80% of things not bringing you sufficient value and stop learning and doing them.