• Renate Ruby

What are the limitations of your knowledge?

Updated: Jul 15, 2020

And how can getting real about it make you a better designer, and person?


Tom Nichols wrote "The Death of Expertise" and he spoke recently on the PBS News hour about how many Americans now believe they know more than the experts. We google things we want to know about

and after a very short period of time, we can feel like we have a pretty good grasp on the topic. We like the feeling of understanding our world and most of us prefer to not be seen as ignorant about anything.


The problem with this is if everyone can become knowledgeable over a weekend, why would we listen to people who have spent decades studying the same information?


The old adage that there are 4 things - and only one of them is really problematic



  1. - Things we know that we know

  2. - Things we know we don't know

  3. - Things we don't know that we know

  4. - Things we don't know that we don't know. (this one is the land mine)


As an interior designer there are a LOT of things we need to know about, or at least know how to access someone who knows more than we do about things. In order to be successful we have to be willing to face our gaps in expertise head on and with no shame, and ask for help.


By the same token, there are things we know that we know! We are all genuinely experts in aspects of our work, and we do our clients a disservice when we do not step fully into that role.


According to Mr Nichols,


"Historically people return to valuing expert views in times of trouble or distress. We're all willing to argue with our doctors until our fever is out of control".


"Let's hope it doesn't come to that. But that's where we're headed. And unless we start accepting the limitations of our own knowledge, then each of us is failing in our obligation to participate in our democracy as involved, but informed citizens."


I'm hopeful for our industry and our society right now, as we have all learned during this COVID-19 event that experts are valuable. Information can be either true or not true - and that opinions that are unsupported by data can get people killed. I know I'm really saying "I don't know - let's ask someone who does" a lot more lately than ever before.


I hope after we all get back to work, you designers can recognize your true expertise and really feel the value you bring to your clients.

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