Useless knowledge

What is knowledge?

Knowledge is the understanding you have about yourself and the world.

Is all knowledge useful?

Knowledge is not always useful. Most people don’t think about its usefulness. They have high regard for it because society has glorified it. This makes them acquire knowledge just for the sake of it. It has resulted in people hoarding knowledge which they never use. For example, you could study extensively about how to start a business but never start one.

When is knowledge useful?

Knowledge is useful when it is used in day to day life. For example, if you learn about negotiations in college, you can use it when negotiating in your daily life. So knowledge about negotiations is useful to you. But if you learn about international trade in college and never use it in your daily life, that knowledge is useless to you.

Why care about the usefulness of knowledge?

Useless knowledge can take you away from your goals. For example, you could want to acquire knowledge about running a business before starting your own business. But since there is plenty of knowledge available on running a business you will be tempted to acquire all of it. In the process you will postpone starting your business for months, years or even indefinitely. So your need for knowledge took you away from starting your own business. You could also have a covert reason for seeking endless knowledge about this topic. It could be to remove your fear of starting a business. You see starting a business as a risky endeavour. It scares you. You seek knowledge to remove this fear. But no amount of knowledge can remove this fear as it stems from an uncertainty. It is uncertain that you will be successful in your business. Knowledge cannot remove this uncertainty as the future is always uncertain.

What about seeking knowledge for curiosity?

Seeking knowledge for the sake of curiosity is not harmful. It can be seen as entertainment. But you should be careful to not bring this habit when seeking knowledge with a goal. Unfortunately, you might cherish your curiosity as it is glorified by society. You will see no problem in it. But it will delay your goals and everyday tasks. For example, if your job requires you to do a task in a new field you will want to learn everything about the field before proceeding to the task. You will delay the task because you will be acquiring unnecessary knowledge. When you finally do the task you will do it improperly as you would have missed out on useful knowledge for the task in your attempt to learn everything about the field.

How to stop learning useless knowledge?


Seek knowledge only on a need basis
Seek knowledge which is only required for your immediate goals. Seek knowledge which can be used quickly. Do not seek knowledge for a goal which is far out into the future. For example, when starting a business acquire only the minimum knowledge required to start a business. Do not seek knowledge of expanding to international markets. Such knowledge will not be useful immediately. That knowledge could also be completely useless as your business might fail before reaching the level of international expansion. This doesn’t mean you should not plan ahead for your goals. Plan ahead, but be aware of your reasons when seeking knowledge. When you see yourself seeking knowledge for entertainment or for avoiding fear, stop yourself.

Build self confidence
Do not use knowledge as a tool to hide from your fears. Stop yourself from doing it by building self-confidence. Understand that fear is natural. Understand that being self-confident is not the absence of fear, but an ability to not be overwhelmed by it. Build self-confidence by taking risks in your life in spite of your fears. Slowly you will realize that it is not difficult to overcome your fears.

Be aware of your addiction to knowledge
Be aware that you might sometimes seek knowledge purely for entertainment. Stop yourself from doing it if it is taking you away from your goals. Remember that knowledge should take you towards action, not away from it.

Don’t value knowledge based on how it sounds
Always be skeptical of new knowledge in the public sphere. Don’t get carried away by how it sounds. For example, a movie can preach about the importance of being kind. It will use beautiful images and music to convey this message. You will think that this message is valid and useful knowledge because it looks and sounds impressive. But it won’t help you practice kindness in your life. Practicing kindness requires more than just being aware of the goodness of being kind. It requires bravery and self-control. The knowledge from the movie is not useful as it doesn’t help you become brave or practice self-control. You will go back home after watching the movie and will not be kinder.

Be skeptical of knowledge which is too general
Evaluate knowledge by its relevance. You can’t use knowledge which is not relevant to your context. There is plenty of knowledge in the public sphere which is general in nature. Such knowledge will not be useful to you as your individual context makes them irrelevant. For example, you might want to build leadership skills in you by reading the biography of a great leader. But knowledge about the life of a great leader is not relevant to you as the context of the leader and you will be different. You might lack leadership qualities because of events in your life which created limiting beliefs. For example, failing as a hall monitor in school might have given you a limiting belief that people will not respect you. The leader in the biography may not have the same limiting beliefs as you. Reading about his life will not help you remove your limiting beliefs. Thus, the differences in context between you and the leader will make knowledge about his life completely useless to you. Useful knowledge for you will be the knowledge which helps you overcome your limiting beliefs.

Be skeptical of knowledge which uses after-the-fact analysis
Knowledge from after-the-fact analysis of an event is error-prone as it doesn’t assess all factors affecting the event. For example, a college can teach a course on building a successful business using a case study of a successful business. The course will do an after-the-fact analysis of how the business became successful. It will force fit a model for success based on looking at the decisions made by the business. This analysis is error-prone as it doesn’t assess an array of other factors which could have contributed to the business’s success. These factors could include mistakes made by competitors, customer preferences of the time or ease of access to business capital at the time.

Be skeptical of knowledge derived from statistics
Knowledge from statistical analysis is error-prone as it doesn’t explain causal relationships. For example, a research study can collate data on successful people and identify traits common in them. It will then proclaim that such traits increase the chances of a person being successful. But this conclusion is error-prone as it doesn’t explain how such traits made people successful. Without that explanation, the study is merely guessing that such traits make people successful.

Learn through experience
The most useful knowledge comes from experience. Such knowledge is highly relevant as your experience is always relevant to you. It is not error prone as no analysis is required to acquire it. You will be able to use it immediately. For example, you will learn a lot about running a successful business while running a business. When you see your business grow in spite of doing less marketing you will learn that marketing is not essential in your kind of business. When you see losses because of the resignation of important employees you will learn that being employee friendly is essential in your kind of business. It wouldn’t have taken much analysis for you to acquire these learnings as they were obvious. You can quickly implement these learnings by diverting marketing expenses to employee welfare programs.

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