Excerpted from the book on conscious business management, Business Black Belt
At a certain age, people’s minds close up;
they live on their intellectual fat.
~ William Lyon Phelps
Otherwise intelligent people often unconsciously use their existing knowledge to block new ideas or facts coming in. This keeps them stuck and makes them a challenge to communicate with. Here’s what to do:
Are you or anyone you know too smart to learn something new? Let’s deal with this subject right up front in case it applies to you. If you’re reading this book, you’re obviously looking for some answers and good ideas you can use and you’re probably pretty bright. But you may have a problem.
Smart people gather information and remember it. And usually what we are taught is based upon a particular premise or set of facts. As we learn and master the information, the original premise for that information remains as its foundation or paradigm.
Believe it or not, smart people are often afflicted with a severe learning disorder. The existing knowledge on a given subject blocks new knowledge from coming in. And knowledge blocks are due to stuck paradigms. For example, I have a degree in economics, the science of “efficiently allocating scarce resources”. The paradigm of economics is that resources are scarce. With that fundamental premise, how can someone talk to me about unlimited prosperity? I’ve been trained to believe that resources are scarce!1
If you were to tell me, “You have plenty of resources,” I filter it through what I already know about economics. The more I think I already know, based on my knowledge of economics, the less receptive I am. “Waddayamean? Resources are scarce!” I resist your point of view as well as any evidence to support it. I don’t (won’t) learn from you. Instead we argue. My existing knowledge has become the basis for my inability to learn—my learning disorder. I’ve built my knowledge on my paradigm of how I perceived things are or should be. That information clogs my filter and prevents new information from getting in.
There are a variety of ways to look at the same thing.
Imagine the starship Enterprise, in anticipation of an attack, with its deflector shields up. It takes a lot of energy to maintain the deflector shields. We often use our existing knowledge as our own deflector shield, defending our knowledge, paradigm or opinion. And that requires energy potentially useful for other things. It may be difficult to realize that the basis for your existing knowledge may have changed or may have been incomplete when you drew your original conclusions, but remember to consider it as a possibility when you see an argument brewing—and use that energy instead to enlighten yourself.
Look at it this way: Often, you’ll have pieces A and B of a subject and someone else will have pieces C and D. You’ll both argue the differences of A and B versus C and D instead of sharing each other’s information where both end up with A, B, C, and D. Instead of thinking “I already know that,” think “How does that contribute to or update what I already know?” The idea is to expand each other’s wealth of knowledge and experience, not negate it.
History is full of examples
In 1967 the Swiss actually invented the electronic watch. But the big watchmakers of the world (in Switzerland) at that time dismissed the mechanism because it had no hands, no main spring, no gears, or no winding. It wasn’t really a watch! Tragically for them, the Japanese, who had no prior paradigm for watch-building, stole the market.
When it dawned on me to create a business plan software template to enable people to use their computers to develop their business plans, a number of business planning professionals told me it would never work. No expert system software could really make the decisions to write a business plan for you. That was and still is true, because the previous software people were trying to use a computer program to write the business plan. Their paradigm involved complicated computer programming and they couldn’t see how you could effectively create a business plan with it. My paradigm was different. Why not just give people a complete sample business plan already typed and formatted in word-processing and spreadsheet files? Our programming simply helps users select the section they want and prompts them through filling in all the information specific to their business. They could use any word-processor or spreadsheet program to simply import my text files, and then edit them any way they want, but my method works in spite of the previous experts’ warnings. And since they weren’t originally my customers, it didn’t really matter.
Please show me what to say
What people really want in order to write their business plans is an example to follow. Their biggest problem, they told me, is staring at a blank page not knowing where to start or what to say. When I sold computers early in my career, many customers complained that they had just learned how to use their electronic calculators, which are not much older than PCs. So I thought about what people were most familiar with now—word-processing and spreadsheet software. Most people had just learned how to use them and they were familiar applications. Why not give businesspeople something they could use that would take advantage of the software they already knew how to use?
Business planning was a bitch
The next concept hurdle we needed to jump was that writing business plans usually involved reading many books on the subject, gathering a number of actual business plans, highlighting the best parts, taking notes… just getting ready to start writing your business plan was a monumental task. No wonder nobody wanted to write them!
The idea of using a software package to write a business plan was a new idea. I had to convince people that finally it could be easy, even fun.
Perhaps you have a product or service that people can really use. Maybe you’ve identified a need and you can clearly see how to fill it. But it’s possible that your potential customers are so caught up in their way of thinking and their way of problem solving, they can’t see what you’re offering. People who invent or sell something new often face this sales challenge.
Today’s fact becomes tomorrow’s misinformation.
Alvin Toffler, author
Getting through to others
You may be the person blocking new information. You may also deal with someone else who is blocking information. To understand that you are blocking ideas is great—you’re now aware of it. But how to deal with 99.9% of the planet who are blocking information like crazy? How do you do get through to them? I think I’ve have found a simple and effective solution.
If you say, “Let me shift your paradigm/foundation/perspective (or assumptions) for a moment.” The listener may realize that you are coming from an entirely new angle. His or her defenses will temporarily stand down. He or she can be open to hearing you. Now, your listener is prepared to look at things in a different way. He or she doesn’t have knowledge built up in your paradigm, clogging receptivity to you, it’s only built up in his or her own. So when you offer the opportunity to see things through a new lens, nothing will block the view. (Be sure you wait for the person to get with you. Listeners may need a moment to retool their thinking.)
Sometimes paradigm shifting means breaking the rules. Are these rules really hard and fast? Is this really a law of physics or nature we are limited by?
Learning is not a zero-sum game.
You don’t forget one thing for every new thing you learn.
You’d think that. . .
Paradigm paralysis and knowledge blocking are also responsible for our belief in lies. We can be so caught up in how we think things are or should be that we overlook obvious evidence to the contrary. Think about it. People could tell us anything as long as it went along with our preexisting notions and we would believe it. How many times have you asked a salesperson a question and they responded with a knee-jerk “Yes, it will do that.” Did they even hear the question? Was it important that they respond accurately? Do they want to make the sale? Do they care about their credibility? What do you want to hear? Usually, I have something at stake when I ask a question and it’s important to get a good, accurate answer. Don’t be too quick to accept an answer just because it sounds right. You might ask, “Where does it say that in your literature?” Brochures have been carefully written and reviewed. If a product or service will do something, the brochure will most likely state this. (Incidentally, your own literature should keep your own salespeople honest. Also, contracts should contain everything you, as the customer, have been told verbally.)
A bridge between a perception, a product, and a need
Many outrageously successful businesses are founded simply on a paradigm shift. Likewise, many golden opportunities are missed simply because of a knowledge block. Look to understand the premise on which someone is presenting a concept to you. Just ask, “What paradigm is this based on?” or “Where are you coming from on this?” Then you’ll have an idea for his or her basis of thinking and you can begin to understand the person’s position.
To really be ahead in the marketing game, you need to know which paradigms your customers believe. You’re not going to readily “un-stick” them, but you can build perceivable bridges from your product to their needs. The “tubeless tire,” “cordless phone,” and “business plan software” all created a bridge between a perception, a product, and a need.
Share this concept (and this book too) with your friends and associates. Remind each other of potential knowledge blocks when you don’t openly accept and consider each other’s ideas.
Shifting paradigms doesn’t necessarily mean agreeing with or accepting something, but at least you’ll be able to grasp its meaning. As you read on, you may need to shift your paradigms as we get into some other interesting subjects.
Business Black Belt Notes
- Knowledge blocking is the learning disorder of the very intelligent.
- The more people know, the less receptive they may be to new information.
- To get through to someone, say, “Let me shift your paradigm.”
- How does new or different information contribute to or update what you already know?
- We believe lies because they are what we want to hear.
- Use your assumptions as the basis for pointed questions to find the real truth.
1 Unlimited Wealth is a great book by Paul Zane Pilzer, that clearly explains this exciting possibility and unravels the insanity of past economic theory. New York, Crown Publishers, 1990.