A true story about deep knowledge versus ‘chauffer knowledge’

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“After receiving the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1918, Max Planck went on tour across Germany. Wherever he was invited, he delivered the same lecture on new quantum mechanics. Over time, his chauffeur grew to know it by heart.AdobeStock_79283356 (Small)

“It has to be boring giving the same speech each time, Professor Planck. How about I do it for you in Munich? You can sit in the front row and wear my chauffeur’s cap. That’d give us both a bit of variety.”

Planck liked the idea, so that evening the driver held a long lecture on quantum mechanics in front of a distinguished audience.

Later, a physics professor stood up with a question. The driver recoiled: “Never would I have thought that someone from such an advanced city as Munich would ask such a simple question! My chauffeur will answer it.”

This passage is quoted in the book, The Art of thinking clearly by Rolf Dobelli

Dobelli had borrowed the story from Charlie Munger of Berkshire Hathaway.

Here’s the reason for relaying the passage.

As quoted by Dobelli, Munger maintains there are two types of knowledge:

#1  The real knowledge from a person who knows and has studied a topic deeply.

#2 Chauffeur knowledge: People who espouse knowledge by rote – often eloquently – that isn’t their own.

I believe the key lessons here are, to not speak with authority, when you’re not an authority, and continue to dig deeper and deeper into your field of endeavour – so you won’t get exposed as a ‘chauffeur’.

Real knowledge often comes to the fore when you’re delivering a presentation, and at Q&A time, someone makes an aggressive comment or asks a tough question. If you only have chauffeur knowledge, this is where you’ll be found out. Warren Buffet’s advice is to stay within your ‘circle of competence’

You CALL to action/HOW to apply for this post: Make a goal to dig deeper, find out more about your field of endeavour. A way to to do this, is to pose questions that you can’t answer about your field. That will spur your curiosity to find answers to those question, leading to acquiring new information, and resulting in a deeper knowledge of your field..

Check out this prior post on the Real worth of great listening, speaking and presenting.

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