When Knowledge is NOT Power!

- February 21, 2012 4 MIN READ

On the way to work one day I was listening to a local radio station and caught the end of a very interesting interview with a man named Josh Wood. Josh is a paraplegic; he explained that he had severed his spinal cord in a snowboarding accident when he was young.

The tone of the radio host’s was one of disbelief and bewilderment at his story. Despite being told he would never walk again, Josh not only walked, but got back on the snowboard, went water-skiing and jumped a 50foot ramp on his motocross bike.

During the last part of the interview Josh mentioned that he had taken his recovery into his own hands, broken all the ‘rules’ and completely ignored most the advice he was given by his doctors. This guy and his story fascinated me, and in typical fashion I just had to learn more.

One of the best things about working with athletes is that I often get access to lots of amazing people and professionals as a result of my association with elite performers. Since my work involves assisting and coordinating athletes in their recovery from injury I often use this to my advantage to ensure those I am working with get exactly what they need and more.

I contacted Josh and his family and asked him to come down to meet one particular athlete I was working with at the time. This athlete had just undergone a major operation and there was a chance he might never compete at the elite level again. The time Josh spent with us was invaluable and actually I think I might have learned just as much as the athlete.

In detailing his injury and his miraculous recovery Josh mentioned that when the doctors tried to outline the nature of his injury and the implications it would have on the rest of his life, he simply refused to be educated. ‘I never wanted to be told what I could not do, because if I never learned then there was no reason not to try to recover’ he said.

Since he was not aware of what he could and could not do, Josh set out to regain function of his legs (much to the disdain of the ‘experts’). Slowly but surely he regained use of his toes, then his feet followed by his legs. ‘That’s great’ the doctors said, ‘but that’s all you’ll ever be able to do. You will not be able to support yourself to walk’.

When Josh wanted to try anyway they did not offer to help, citing that it was pointless for man with a severed spinal cord to do so. The impression Josh got was that he was wasting their time and a nuisance. Still not knowing (or caring about) the extent of his injury he pressed on anyway and eventually regained use of his legs to the point where he could stand of his own accord. He has since proceeded to prove to those who ‘know’ that their assessment was incorrect in every way.

I learned a valuable lesson from Josh: that there are both positives and negatives that come with knowledge. The upside is obvious but we might not always consider the downside. Upon reflection I realized that as an ‘expert’ some of the knowledge I had gained and the way in which I identified with it could potentially have limited the possibilities and performance of those I work with.

I realized that it might be possible that the more I had learned about the human body and its ‘capabilities’ the more limitations I unconsciously placed upon others and myself as a result of acquiring this knowledge. The more I learned about what you ‘should’ and ‘shouldn’t’ do the more I could get caught up in dogma and the less I might act on and trust my own intuitions. This can lead to indecisive action and at times no action at all.

A man by the name of Cliff Young demonstrated the downsides of knowledge and expertise by winning the Westfield Sydney to Melbourne ultra marathon. Young (61 years old) turned up in overalls and gumboots and pitted himself against professionally trained elite athletes much younger than he, and who had months of specific preparation and industry expertise behind them.

Young was a potato farmer who claimed that he would often chase his sheep for days. This was quite amusing for those ‘experts’ who considered Young’s attempt more of a comedy act than a genuine challenge. Though these experts were no longer laughing when Young won the race convincingly and broke the race record by almost two full days!!

Cliff Young had the advantage of NOT knowing what the ‘experts’ knew and that is the reason he won. He actually ran MUCH slower than everyone else, although each of the other six competitors broke the previous race record Young still beat them convincingly. Young won was because he did NOT have any coach or ‘expert’ telling him how fast he should run, when he should eat sleep and take a break. So he didn’t! He simply continued to run while the other competitors slept.

The thing is: research, understanding and knowledge ALWAYS follows practice. That means that before something can be researched, there needs to be a pattern or result being created which is new or different. The researcher is the person who observes this new result or pattern and sets about trying to understand it and develop a new understanding of what they already see.

That means that if your waiting for research to validate your action or actions. You might just be ten years behind what those at the forefront already KNOW. Don’t get me wrong here. I like to have evidence to support my actions as much as the next coach. But a closed mind leads to limited possibilities and I believe mediocre results. I believe that optimal results occur when you can remain open minded but also critical. There is a principle I learned from Dr. Wayne Deyer, which states: ‘Have a mind that that is open to everything yet attached to nothing’ which echoes this point.

If you are a knowledge worker and people depend you on for advice and guidance daily. Consider how your knowledge and approach might help or hinder those around you based on how you identify with it and how you communicate as a result of this.

If you are thinking about doing something new or different and worried that you haven’t ‘looked into it’ enough. Don’t less this belief stop you from just jumping in and giving it a go. I believe that thoughtful action is just as valuable as educated action.

Terry Condon is an Entrepreneur plus Fitness and Physical Therapy trainer for high performance athletes and teams. His blog www.terrycondon.com always has great inspiring content that is useful for both entrepreneurs and athletes alike. Terry is pictured above kitesurfing, one of many active hobbies.