In The Black Swan, Nicholas Nassim Taleb writes about Umberto Eco's library, which was estimated to contain over 35,000 books, many of them in their original language. Eco got two main responses from visitors who saw his enormous collection of books. The first group asked Eco if he had read all of the books in his possession. The second group recognized that the books make up a reference library. Eco would have to explain to the first group that the books he hasn't read are more valuable than the ones he has already completed, since they offered him access to new knowledge. You can apply the same logic to offer your clients access to new value in the sales conversation.
The Value of What You Know Now
You benefit from what you know now: everything you have learned got you to where you are, and indeed it’s the only thing that lets you keep living your life. That includes things that you learned (even unconsciously) through experience, like recognizing when it's time to leave a situation that might harm you. Your current knowledge also forms a tool for creating value for others. When a contact or client lacks the knowledge and experience you possess, transferring your insights to them provides potential power, enabling and even compelling them to take action.
There is tremendous value in what you know, both for you and for others. However, it's easy to reach a certain level of success and find yourself in stasis, lacking the motivation (or opportunity) to gain new insight that lets you grow. Surpassing that stasis is one of the most important factors when it comes to your personal satisfaction. The best way to improve your results is to recognize the limit of what you know and seek new knowledge and experiences.
The Greater Value of What You Don't Know
I hope that you are the kind of person who is curious about their world. I hope that you are self-aware enough that you recognize how ignorant you are about almost everything. Ignorance—the lack of knowledge—has nothing to do with intelligence. In fact, the only way to overcome your ignorance is to use your intelligence to acquire new knowledge.
What you know is important, but what you don't know is even more important. I have always been horrified by claims that a large number of people never read a book after high school. These same people are likely the ones who get all of their information from the evening news (or worse, from social media), breathing in a growth-stunting and limiting view of the world mainly designed to outrage instead of inform.
Improving your results begins with new knowledge, perspectives, potential, and actions. When you find yourself stuck, stalled, or regressing, it’s most likely because you lack new knowledge: your existing knowledge and experience is inadequate for your next big breakthrough.
How to Love Ideas You Hate
The more you know, the more you recognize how little you actually know. That is why Umberto Eco believed the books he hadn't read were more important than the ones he had already completed. There’s a tremendous advantage in being curious enough to be a lifelong learner, continually acquiring new knowledge and experience that can directly improve your results. Part of that process is engaging ideas that make you uncomfortable or even upset.
Yesterday, a business partner told me that they had an idea for me, but warned me that I wouldn’t like it. I explained that the ideas I love the most are the ones that I hated at first blush, a model that seems to confuse people. The goal is to get outside yourself: an idea that you and I might hate may be perceived as incredibly valuable to other people we’re trying to reach. That idea may or may not be valuable to me personally, but rejecting it without understanding how, why, and when it is valuable eliminates its potential value to those around me, just because it clashes with what I already know. The more I hate an idea, then, the more I seek to understand it.
Heterodoxy means embracing something that cuts against the orthodox, the way things are normally done. There can be no new value when there is no new knowledge, and when new potential is ignored, good ideas often wither on the vine. No matter the idea, its value is provisional; what you know might be valuable now but worthless in the future.
The more access you have to new knowledge and experience, including others’ knowledge and experience, the greater your perspective. The ability to entertain both the conventional and unconventional offers you a greater access to your potential, even if it means recognizing the limit of what you know and requires you to seek new knowledge and experience.
What you learn creates new value for you, while also increasing your ability to create value for others. Different ideas from different perspectives will help you recognize when and how an idea or a belief might prove useful, and also when it is not right for the circumstances. The chord progression C-G-F works well enough, and you'll find it used in many popular songs. But some songs cry out for an E or an A.