I’ve been reading a lot of flying magazines lately. (After a twenty-five year break, I’ve recently started flying lessons again.) One of my favorite columnists is Lane Wallace, who writes for Flying magazine. Lane is kind of an anomaly in the flying press; she doesn’t write about airspeed, horsepower, wing-loading, turbine engine performance, or instrument flying procedures. Lane writes about what makes flying fun.
Lane Wallace photo c 2008
She writes about the joy of leaving the earth on takeoff (and the even greater joy of touching back down again), the beauty of a sunset from a couple thousand feet up, the friendships that flying creates, and how cool it is to participate in a mass formation flight of really loud airplanes. I enjoy reading all the other stuff too, but I always find myself drawn to the simplicity of her stories. No matter what they’re about, I “get” them.
I was really taken with her column in the new January 2009 issue of Flying. She talks about the steps a pilot goes through in learning to fly… and then the steps a pilot goes through getting good at flying. And she’s right: they’re not the same thing.
Although Lane is talking specifically about flight training, her insights apply equally to anyone learning to do anything challenging, and I was intrigued by a quote I’d never heard before – so intrigued, that I decided to make it visual in order to better roll it around in my head.
We’ve all heard about the difference between “knowing that
we know something” and “not knowing what we don’t know”. But Lane, admittedly
channeling some unknown master of old, takes it a couple steps further. According
“It’s said there are four stages to learning. First, you don’t know what you don’t know. Then you know what you don’t know. Then you don’t know what you know. Then finally, you know what you know.”
Okay, I thought, that’s a nice quote, but it’s quite the mental tongue twister. I mean, it sounds right, but good luck getting my head around what it really means. Lane goes on to make it clearer by giving an example of each step in the context of a pilot’s lifelong learning cycle, which I appreciated her because I could easily plot my own training progression onto her examples.
But what Lane is really talking about here is a fundamental thinking framework, a (relatively) simple model that purports to explain an entire way of looking at the world… and I love those. Whenever I come across one, my own visual thinking bells start clanging. In order to really see what these frameworks mean, I have to draw them out. That’s what I did, and here is what it looks like, the “Four Steps of Knowledge”:
First, we have to map out our coordinates. Let’s start by breaking the world into two parts: the things we know, and the things we don’t know.
That’s one axis (North-South), but we know a solid coordinate system requires a second (East-West), so let’s make that one reflect the quality of our knowledge, meaning either we know it or we don’t.
We start in Quadrant 1, the overconfident but completely ignorant student. Since we have no idea what we don’t know, we believe we can do anything.
We move into Quadrant 2 as we know more about what we don’t yet know, usually by scaring ourselves to death for the first time with our ignorance…then sneaking through by sheer beginner’s luck.
After learning the hard way a few times, we move into Quadrant 3, where we surprise ourselves by knowing more than we thought we did. By this point we’ve trained our reflexes to be better that we expected, and find ourselves dodging bullets instinctively – and surprisingly consistently. (So it’s not just dumb luck after all; hell, maybe we do know something!)
Once we’ve realized that we’re not dodging bullets at all, but instead have learned to rely on what we know, we move into Quadrant 4. Now we know what we know and are as much true masters of the universe as we’re ever going to be. But the beauty of knowing what we know is that we’re not capable of being arrogant about it; the honesty of our knowledge keeps us humble. (I think I just figured out what “wisdom” means.)
But we’re not done yet. Yes, we know our slice of the world well, but there’s one more step. You see, once we really know what we know, that means we’re finally ready to share that with someone who doesn’t yet know what they don’t know.
In other words, we’re ready to step back into quadrant 1 and become the teacher.
I gotta say, I love this visual thinking stuff. Thanks Lane, for motivating me to explore something I didn’t know as well as I thought I knew.