The search for success begins with a quest for knowledge. A quest for knowledge recognizing there are stages of knowledge you must pass through that are irrefutable. Undeniable.
Doors that must be opened. Dark hallways that must be followed. Rooms that must be entered. A search for the skills and abilities required to take you from where you are to where you want—or, need—to be, despite the angst or anxiety that too often accompanies the unknown.
For years I believed there were Four Stages of Knowledge and spoke and wrote about them extensively. I’ve come to realize I was wrong. There are ultimately five. But a discussion of that elusive fifth stage of knowledge will have to wait just a bit longer as we take a moment to review the first four.
Because it is critical that we understand the process each of us must experience as we learn and grow, moving ever closer toward the ultimate goal of self-actualization.
The first stage of knowledge is perhaps the most familiar. It is ignorance. The ultimate starting point. The blank slate. You don’t know what you don’t know. It is the beginning of every new skill. Every new undertaking. And, we have all been there.
The problem is obvious. If you don’t know what you don’t know, where do you start? Where does the journey begin? The solution may be equally obvious. At least, it is for me. You start with a guide. A mentor. A coach. Someone who has already taken that first step, opened that first door, and moved to the second stage of knowledge: You know what you don’t know!
Knowing what you don’t know is the beginning of wisdom. You know where you are. You know where you want to be. And, perhaps, for the very first time, there is a sense of what it might take to get there. A sense of what you will need to know. What you will need to learn in order to cross the chasm between ignorance and the beginning of wisdom.
The third stage of knowledge has always been my personal favorite. You don’t know what you know. Think about that for a moment. Think about all the times you have attempted what should have been impossible. At least, impossible for you. The times you were tasked with something you were seemingly unprepared to even attempt. And, yet… somehow, over time and through observation, you knew. You had warehoused the requisite skills and abilities—perhaps, subconsciously—necessary to accomplish that seemingly impossible challenge.
I’m sure there is a neuroscientist somewhere able to provide a better explanation than I am capable of. But that won’t stop me from trying. You do it without conscious awareness of the entire whole of what your subconscious mind is capable of processing and absorbing. Things you are watching while unaware you are watching them. People all around you doing things. Performing tasks. Doing work. All while your subconscious mind is harvesting information for future reference. For future use. Things it is certain you may need to know. Things that would be nice to know if or when you ever needed to pull those skills from the dark recesses of your mind. Ah, ha-moments, filled with the wonder of, “How did I do that? How could I?”
What I believed was the fourth and final stage of knowledge was, you know what you know! You are aware of your knowledge base. The foundational information and experience that results in confidence and competence. A level of self-actualization that flows from the ability to recognize what needs to be done coupled with the requisite information, skills, experience, and ability necessary to make it happen.
Abraham Maslow, defined self-actualization in his Hierarchy of Human Needs, as “the desire to accomplish everything that one can, to become the most that one can be.” Something that can only be accomplished by knowing what you know. A reality that teases your abilities and willingness to test your tolerance for discomfort with a journey back into the abyss. A path that leads to overcoming new obstacles and transcending new challenges in a world in which you don’t know what you don’t know!
At the beginning of this piece, I poked at your curiosity by saying there was a Fifth Stage of knowledge. A stage of knowledge I was unaware of. Or, one I had evidently chosen to ignore.
The Fifth Stage of Knowledge?
What is it? What could it be?
It is—perhaps—the most simple and obvious of them all. You don’t want to know what you don’t know! In popular terms, it suggests that ignorance is bliss. The problem is, we all know that to be false. Ignorance is not bliss! In the Age of Information, ignorance is self-destructive at best. Suicidal, if left unchecked!
No one has the luxury of ignorance in a world that moves at the speed of thought. There is no such thing as standing still in a world that is moving as fast and changing as quickly as ours. Standing still is just a matter of how far behind you’re falling! But knowing that for yourself or about someone else is not enough.
It’s not enough, because I’ve come to realize that within the context of the Five Stages of Knowledge, we will all be forced to deal with individuals—Or, groups of individuals—who are not only happy not knowing what they don’t know. They become militant when confronted with the possibility they will be challenged to learn and grow.
In a search for success that begins with a quest for knowledge, no one needs to contend against a Black Hole of ignorance. Especially, one surrounded by a ring of individuals perfectly happy to fall back into the abyss.