Deep Feeling, Shallow Knowledge

Image Credit: Shallow Hal, Glenn Watson

If you feel deeply about something doesn’t it make sense that you would seek to know as much as you could about the object of your affection? I read an article yesterday that blew me away. The article, “Basic Religion Test Stumps Many Americans,” looks at the fact that Americans are deeply religious people who are on the average deeply ignorant about religion.

Citing results from a telephone survey performed by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, the author noted that on average, people who took the survey answered half of the 32 questions correctly. More interesting than that, many had troubles answering questions about their own faith.

I bumped into this phenomenon of shallowness in another arena while I was completing part of my MBA in Bordeaux, France. Invited to dinner by a fascinating older couple after a chance discussion in the open-air market about the truffles in the region, I had no idea what to expect. They invited me to their gorgeous apartment and in the course of the evening I discovered something that I later found to be true of the French in general.

If you say you like something in France, say truffles or art, you are likely to receive a slew of genuine questions about why, which period, what type, which artist, from which farm and so on. I remember at the time being more careful when revealing what I liked. If and when I did, I had to know why and be able to explain it intelligently. If you care deeply about something, it makes sense to me that you would take the time to know your facts, to understand the heritage and background factors that make what you like or care deeply about what it is today.

Many Americans claim to be proud of their country and rightly so, there are many wonderful facets to America. Scratch a little deeper, however, and you’ll find only a small handful of people know much of anything about the history of the country, its political institutions, its founding fathers and so on, while the majority of people (typically the most vociferous) have no more depth of understanding or knowledge than a 5th grader.

My point in all of this is that it is worth investing the time to get to know that which you love. The failure to do so will turn that which you love into a hollow mockery of an empty shell over time. The American dream, for instance, can return to being a dream just as quickly as it became a reality if we are not careful.

I had a wonderful conversation with one of my managers today about the importance of having everyone in the company know and understand our products. We discussed the fact that it is easy to get wrapped up in what you are doing so completely that you lose sight of the context in which you are contained.

The result of the call was exciting. We are going to launch a campaign of company education that provides training and information on our product line: why we produce what we produce, why we use the production methods we use and what each product is designed to do for the end consumer.

If you haven’t had a chance to see the first episode of “Outsourced,” I recommend it if you’re up for a chuckle or two and aren’t easily offended by generalizations. It follows the life of an young manager, Todd Dempsey, who is sent to take charge of a call center in India that was set up by his company (which makes useless novelty items) to save money while he was out for training. At a certain point he attempts to describe the absurd range of products sold by his company to a group of locals who have no context through which they could understand the value, purpose or desirability of the products. I bet every company faces this dilemma in one way or another.

Education is critical to participation. Participation is the cornerstone of belonging. Belonging is the essence of feeling valuable and meaningful. My job as CEO is to ensure that our clients’ needs are being met by employees who not only feel, but know that they are valuable and I look forward to seeing what this simple, yet significant change will produce over time.

7 thoughts on “Deep Feeling, Shallow Knowledge

  1. Isabella Kearney

    Great photo 🙂

    I heard about the recent survey and one thing that struck me about the results were that atheists and agnostics tended to know more about religion than those who were religious. As this is a survey, it doesn’t speak for each individual, but it’s an interesting point, nonetheless.

    Education is so central to understanding and I’m sure the expanded training at your company will be time well spent.


  2. Colin

    That sounds like a great way to get your employees more invested in your product and company. I think if someone really feels like they can make a difference in whatever work they do, they will do a much better job than if they’re just punching a clock. I know companies that don’t empower their employees (especially their customer service reps) are not easy to do business with, which is something you have mentioned as a goal. Thanks for another great post.


  3. Mitch

    Great ideas here, and valuable initiative on your and your management team’s part. I admire you for seeing past the stereotypes and generalizations that many were offended by in “Outsourced” – there ended up being inspiration there to improve your team’s understanding. I found the show entertaining and insightful, which is more than I get from most TV programming.


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