How to Spot a "Fake Leader"

"If you cannot explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough." - Albert Einstein

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How to Spot a "Fake Leader"

“Any fool can know. The point is to understand.” -Albert Einstein

Bob Hollenshead recently asked me if I knew the difference between true knowledge and pretend knowledge. I told him that I understood the concept, but I wasn't sure what his meaning of those descriptions of knowledge were for him. He asked me if I knew the story of Max Planck...

Max Planck was a physicist that won the Nobel Prize in the 1920's. After winning the Nobel Prize, he was invited all over the world to speak about his new discoveries around quantum mechanics. These talks were scheduled three times a day. One presentation during breakfast, one during lunch and one over dinner.

Max was assigned a driver to transport him all over Europe from one speaking engagement to another. At each presentation Max Planck would ask his driver to park the car, and then stand in the back of the room during the presentation with the other attendees.

After six weeks of attending presentations, three times each day, the chauffeur listened to Max on a daily basis over breakfast lunch and dinner. The chauffeur eventually felt that he had heard that speech enough times that he could present it himself.

After six weeks of spending so much time together, the chauffeur felt comfortable enough to ask Max for a favor. He asked Max, “Professor Planck, it’s so boring to stay in our routine. What if I presented at the next lecture in Munich and you sat in front of the lecture hall, wearing my chauffeur’s hat?”

Planck was well-known for his sense of humor, and thought it was a wonderful idea. So the chauffeur presents on stage, and proceeded to deliver the speech. He nailed it. He had observed the speech so many times, he knew it word for word...verbatim. Each component of the theory was delivered in exquisite detail. He eloquent presentation was delivered in such a manner, that the audience was in awe.

At the end of the speech, one physicist raised his hand. When he was called upon, he stood up and asked a very challenging, difficult and deep question. A question that tugged at the absolute core depths of Planck's theory.

The chauffeur replied, “Well I must admit that I'm surprised that in such an advanced city like Munich that I would be asked such an elementary question. I must say that I expected more from this audience. That question is something that my chauffeur can easily handle...”

"If you cannot explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough." - Albert Einstein

The Two Types of Knowledge

  • The first type of knowledge is authentic. It cannot be bought, it must be earned.
  • The second type of knowledge is pretend. On the surface you know the answer but you lack the deep understanding to discuss it in depth, and to explain it simply.

In the automotive world we have two kinds of knowledge. The first is authentic (Planck) knowledge. These are the rare few that truly know. They’ve paid the dues, they've made the mistakes, they've felt the pain from difficult lessons learned. And learned how to overcome adversity and find solutions from those lessons. Wendell Hardy often tells our team, "The difference between knowledge and wisdom is that knowledge is knowing what to do, and wisdom is what we learn from f'ing up when we did it".

The second type is pretend (chauffeur) knowledge. This type is typically a lot of thunder, followed by very little rain. This type has watched the show enough times, they speak with enthusiasm and passion, they're great at delivering speeches and presentations, they usually make a lasting impression. Unfortunately, at the end of the day all they have is chauffeur knowledge. It's the dilemma right now with the majority of our politicians in the United States of America. The antidote for pretend (chauffeur) knowledge is humility, which is difficult for many. It requires saying, "I am not sure" or "I don't know", which is extremely difficult for some people to say.

Many "chauffeur knowledge professors" are able to learn to put on a good show, but lack a truly deep understanding to provide actionable data. They are often unable to answer questions that don’t rely on memorization, or struggle to explain things without using complicated jargon or vague terms. They do not truly understand how systems, process people and culture integrate. They are exposed to career fatal consequences because they are unable to predict consequences, by being able to see around corners. The problem is that it’s difficult to separate the two. This is similar to the Batesian Mimicry phenomenon. That phenomenon is when a non-harmful species has evolved to mimic the appearance of a species (that actually is harmful) to potential predators. Frogs and butterflies often change their appearance to appear as a poisonous equivalent of their breed, in order to deter potential predators that may pose a threat. One way to smoke out the difference between Planck knowledge and chauffeur knowledge is to ask, "why?" "give me an example", or "show me..."

Authentic knowledge comes from doing the work, and from the lessons learned from making mistakes along the way. There are unfortunately many people who are not willing to do the work. The key to winning in today's environment is to surround yourself with authentic knowledge partners, and to be sure to smoke out "chauffeur knowledge".

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