Knowledge is not a guarantee for success

By: Lucell Larawan

COLLEGE degrees do not always translate into holistic success. To paraphrase: knowledge is not always power. Academic performance cannot always predict later achievements. This is an issue to ponder, especially among students and entrepreneurs.

I can mention at least two examples of those who revolutionized their respective industries—Steve Jobs with a GPA of 2.65 in high school and JK Rowling with a C average at the University of Exeter.

Their examples might intrigue the academia which usually evaluates students based on their ability to cram information in their heads. Many assume that the more they remember many facts, the more they become competent. This, however, is not true.

How did Jobs and Rowling shine?

Pondering about these exemplars, we should note that the real power is—knowledge applied strategically. Let me share how we can use knowledge to our advantage.

Of prime importance, do not just memorize information, but instead, use new knowledge. True learning requires more depth. Bloom’s taxonomy identifies the highest level of learning takes place when we generate, plan and produce original material using new knowledge.

Aytekin Tank, CEO and founder of Jotform, remarked: “…the world’s most successful entrepreneurs intersperse knowledge acquisition with creative experimentation – to immediately put their learning to use.”

This is also true in learning a second language. One can memorize vocabulary, but unless he organizes words to express opinions—unless he starts to communicate his ideas using the second tongue—it is difficult to master the language.

Another tip by Tank: approach new areas with a fresh mind. Unlearning what we already know is necessary because our frameworks always screen new information: We do not want to look because we think we already know. As a result, we become unteachable.

To avoid this, we need a beginner’s mind. Shunryu Suzuki put it clearly: “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” A beginner’s mind is always open. Instead of committing to a first impression, try using multiple perspectives—yes, no or maybe—before embracing just one. With a novice mind, one’s humility and curiosity lead to meaningful learning. Then, with the openness of mind, add enthusiasm.

As children, we used to walk, talk and crawl with inborn interest. When we go to school, learning becomes a routine that we are forced to do. We need to go back to what interests us because enthusiasm is our leverage. Researchers posit that “interest can help us think more clearly, understand more deeply, and remember more accurately.” One with an eagerness to learn can overcome academic difficulties or perceptual disabilities. Even students who scored low in achievement tests were likely to engage in reading and mathematical problems than those who had higher scores because they have an interest, according to one study.

Entrepreneurs must focus on things that interest them. Therefore, if they do not like selling canned goods, why should they build that business? If they do not have a taste for the arts, why should they put up a store for designer furniture products? A few might argue against the idea that we only build what attracts us but this makes it easier for us.

Furthermore, entrepreneurs must also know how to delegate. For instance, if I conduct a study, I can hire someone who can encode my data and run the IBM Statistics software, while I concentrate on interpreting the data.

For many entrepreneurs and wannabes, a habit of reading and researching may not add a true sense of accomplishment. One can only gain from such habits if they focus on what they are truly eager to do, adopt a childlike mind and delegate issues of lower value and enjoyment.

And take action immediately after you learn something new.