Liquid Knowledge

Experts Only (photo by Neil Rickards)
Experts Only (photo by Neil Rickards)
Experts Only
Experts Only (photo by Neil Rickards)
Experts Only
I was at a conference in Israel recently that dealt with global and regional strategy and security. The speakers were a high-powered bunch from the worlds of business, diplomacy, military, think tanks and the like. Perhaps you’ve been at a conference like this; they’re the kind filled with people who “really know what’s going on”. The conference’s organizers, to their credit, tried to get long agreed-upon presentations and panels to focus on the event of the moment – the demonstrations in Tahrir Square, Cairo.

I estimate the median age of the attendees and presenters at about 62. (Full disclosure: I’ll be 60 myself in a few short years). No one at the conference discounted either the seriousness or effectiveness of the demonstrators. Not a soul, however, could imagine Egypt’s current revolution ending up well for anyone except for Muslim fundamentalists.

That made me think: Why was there not a single word of encouragement for the revolution among the attendees? After all, even a fleeting move toward democracy in one country benefits all other democracies, does it not?

Then it hit me: Within a few short days, the “really know what’s going on” folks suddenly became clueless. Who among them would have thought that a despot’s lock on power could be broken with a simple crowbar? Who would have thought that this Facebook-Twitter thing their kids were all using could become effective instruments of power?

I now realize that the Egyptian revolution did not only disempower its dictator and his cadré; it disempowered everyone at the conference as well. The Egyptian volcano exploded and the lava is pouring in all directions. Predictability is its main victim.

The knowledge of “what’s really going on” doesn’t exist. True knowledge consists only of what was and what can be.

So if you find yourself feeling like you know nothing, here’s what you can do:

1. Take comfort in the fact that your situation has a name. It’s called “Fundamental Surprise”.

2. Act counter-intuitively by forcing yourself to be flexible and abandoning what you thought you knew. This is both difficult and imperative.

3. Do another difficult thing: Look, listen, learn and evaluate. This, of course, is only possible if you’re not under immediate threat. Your only other choice is to hang up your spurs and retire. (And that’s what Mubarak had to do). While doing this, DON’T EVEN THINK OF INTERVENING!

4. When the new order becomes apparent and you’ve been able to absorb new information, begin to make sense of what happened. Do not, under any circumstances, start a sentence on the subject with “Of course…”. No one will punish you for saying “In my current view…”. In fact, you will both look and be smarter for it. It demonstrates adaptation, which in the Darwinistic view, is the only thing that assures survival. (It’s not strength that ensures survival, by the way, it’s the ability to adapt).

5. Believe it or not, if you’ve succeeded in going through these steps, you’ll find yourself an expert once again. Lastly, understand that though you have regained expertise, you’re now speaking from a different perch. This will require a new brand, so make sure you have one.

We’re here to help. ;-)

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