Knowledge is Power – Or Is It?

The week after my first session with my boss was very interesting. I took his advice and began asking myself if I could do a variety of things. Could I actually become the top producer at the company? Could I go back to school and get my PhD? Could I write a bestselling book? Could I get into ideal physical shape and run that marathon one day, and many other things. Perhaps the most revealing aspect of this exercise was listening to my self-talk as my initial answers came.

For example, when I asked myself if I could write a bestselling book, my automatic self-talk was, NO! I was amazed by the flurry of supporting thoughts – and by how quickly they came – as to why I couldn’t. Things like I had never written a book before; It was really who you know, not how well you can write; And I even thought that there are many, many other writers better than I was who never wrote a bestselling book.

After this initial onslaught of negativity, I then decided to do some research on authors whose first books did become bestsellers. The obvious example was John Grisham’s A Time to Kill, published in 1988. It took him four years to write that book, and not only did it become a bestseller, but he is one of only three authors to sell 2 million copies of a first printing. As I continued to look, there were others whose first books became bestsellers as well.

So suddenly, I had to grudgingly admit that I had the ability and potential to write a bestselling book, but what I obviously lacked was the knowledge and training (writing experience) to do so. As I thought more about this, I was pretty certain that my next meeting with my mentor would be about learning what I was sure was the missing link to unleashing more of my ability and potential: knowledge and training.

When we next got together, we reviewed my experience with asking myself the “can I?” questions, and he pointed out how important my initial internal reactions were and especially my self-talk. He said we would be getting back to that in an upcoming session. When I told him my ‘aha’ moment about knowledge and training, he smiled again and asked me another question:

“Mike, what do you know about the importance of eating a lot of fruits and vegetables in your daily diet?”

Well, that was easy! I told him all about the studies I’d heard and read about emphasizing the importance of fruits and vegetables. I told him about the essential vitamins and minerals found in green leafy vegetables, about the disease-fighting phytochemicals found only in these foods. I then told him about the importance of dietary fiber which was crucial to maintaining a healthy intestinal track and, of course, and to preventing constipation and even reducing the risk of bowel cancer. I was prepared to go on even more until he stopped me and asked me another question:

“Mike, how many servings of fruits and vegetables did you have yesterday?”

I hesitated as I reviewed my eating that day. For breakfast I had bacon and eggs over easy with hash browns and white toast (lots of butter of course). I went out for Chinese food for lunch and had the lunch special of chicken fried rice. For dinner I had a steak sandwich with garlic mashed potatoes. Oh, and there was some broccoli as a side that I pushed around with my fork but ultimately ignored.

He then said, “So Mike, is it a fair assessment to say that you already have more knowledge about good eating habits than you’re using?” He had me there. He then went down the list. He asked me if I knew more about physical exercise than my daily workout routine (what daily workout routine?) would indicate? Yes. Did I know more about good organization habits than my garage at home or my closet might indicate? Yes. He asked about when I was in college if I knew more about good study habits and homework habits than I had practiced? Yes again!

And that’s when he lowered the boom on me. He said, “Mike, just like it isn’t about how much ability you have that determines your results, it’s also not about how much you know that determines your results either. Just like with potential, people have a lot more knowledge than their actions and results would indicate.”

So I brought up training. I told him that maybe if I had more training – essentially more knowledge – than maybe I’d use more of it. He immediately reminded me of the sales training I went through when I was first hired. He reminded me of all the phone scripts and proven techniques I had been given. He asked me how many of them I used on a daily basis. (Not many – I was still winging it.) He asked me where my script playbook was at that moment? Was it on my desk, opened up to the rebuttals I would need for my next call? No, I had to admit, it was in the middle drawer of my desk, under a pile of other neglected paperwork.

He asked me another question: He said, “Mike, do you know more about the importance of good qualifying techniques and skills than your last few sales lead calls might indicate?” Gee, this was getting annoying. YES! “Do you know more about closing skills and proper objection handling than your last few closes might indicate?” Okay, I surrender. I admitted right then that, yes, I knew more about most things than I my actions, behavior, and my results showed.

He told me that while knowledge and training were important, they were not drivers of actions nor of results. They were not what made someone more successful than someone else. He told me that knowledge was crucial, and that we could always use more training, but by themselves, they were not going to cause me to use more of the potential and ability that I already agreed I had. He told me that it’s not what I know, rather, it’s what I do with what I know that makes the difference.

All right, so how do I get motivated to use more of that I already know and to use more of my potential and ability? I was suddenly convinced the missing piece was motivation, right? When he heard me say this, that same little smile, now a smirk, I was sure, crept across his face. He told me we’d dive into that subject next week.

In the meantime, he challenged me again – and I’m going to challenge you – to come up with areas in my life where I wanted to achieve more, and then he asked me to begin making a list of the things I already knew in those areas and whether or not I was using my knowledge and training to maximize results in those areas. Whether or not that knowledge was influencing my behavior or allowing me to use more of my ability and potential.

It was the start of an interesting exercise, and I highly recommend you try it for yourself this week. Pick an area – as many areas as you choose – and ask yourself if you know more than you use. If fact, ask yourself how much, or how little, of the current knowledge you have in that area that you’re using. The answers for me were revealing, and I think they will be for you, too.