Friday, June 24, 2016

Three Levels of Understanding

Lack of knowledge is circumstantial; poor manner is forgivable. But superficiality or lack of in-depth understanding is often intolerable and create more problems in the world.

With today’s digital new normal - velocity,
complexity, uncertainty and ambiguity, in-depth understanding of either problems you intend to solve or the people you try to get knowing has become an important quality for digital leaders and professionals. Because often misunderstanding or poor judgment is the root cause to tie the knots in people’s hearts and build the wall in their minds. Lack of understanding leads to “fixing the symptom, not the root cause” syndrome, and could be the very reason on how the “Mighty Fall.” Knowledge, understanding, and wisdom are interrelated terms: Which level of understanding do you have when facing challenges, building relationships, or practicing leadership disciplines?

Content understanding: Understanding requires a person's ability to grasp or comprehend information. How deep your understanding is based on the logic, lenses, philosophy, mindset, methodology you leverage to interpret things. If we look at languages - the fundamental tools for human communication, there are certain UNIVERSAL features of all languages, like subjects and objects, verbs, nouns, adjectives, and adverbs. These universal features say something about the world, and content understanding often explains things in a conventional way. In the case of language, we can start from a conventional meaning: language as a method of communicating thoughts. Often people follow conventional wisdom or others opinion, and get stuck only at the level of content understanding, explain things based on the linguistic meaning or make observation on the surface level. They are constrained by the little box in which they are familiar with or just follow other people’s explanation without thinking further or digging deeper. Thus, too often,  assumptions and prejudices get in the way of understanding. It is the responsibility of each individual to examine themselves and to make sure they are open to true understanding, it means you need to get further steps and reach the next level of understanding (in-depth way).

Contextual understanding: Even at linguistic level, you can not conceive a language without context. Logic was discovered through an analysis of language. In that sense language is prior to logic, but more precisely, logic is a part of language, a deep part of the language that was always there and is discovered by an analysis of language, or doing philosophy of language as Aristotle did to discover the syllogism. Knowledge is concrete, and intelligence is contextual. At today’s digital world, logic is often nonlinear and multidimensional. If you want to discover the essential meaning of a term, you must be prepared to go beyond thinking that confines itself to just things; you must be prepared to go to the ontological ground about which that term speaks. Keep in mind, words are said to be the second order. Thoughts are the first order. However, once thoughts have been accessible to others through language or action, we reach a stage to assess the logic of everything; thoughts, language, actions. Logic is a part of the language, a deep structure of language. Therefore, contextual understanding digs deeper, to touch the thought processes and logical reasoning, not only about word meaning, but also about the tones, and “wholeness.” In the digital working environment, context intelligence is about understanding the whole meaning of functional dialects and business cultures or subcultures without getting lost in translation, and perceive business insight in a cohesive way.

Wisdom abstraction: Knowledge-understanding-wisdom, it is the pyramid you need to climb for gaining in-depth understanding. Wisdom comes through the result of life experience or knowledge transcendence. Knowledge is concrete, intelligence is contextual, understanding is personal, and wisdom is abstract. Wisdom is about independent thinking and creativity; putting aside all the trained thoughts, systems, and boxes, let the open possibility come connect naturally. Independent Thinking means you do not follow others' opinion blindly, but analyze and synthesize all sources of input and information to form your own opinion. When in-depth thoughts and understanding transcend into wisdom, the good solution to a specific problem can be scaled and applied to other domains; the mindsets with cognitive difference can be connected via empathy and the hearts can be touched via positive emotion flows.  

The ability to understand or teach is due to the intellect present within the person. The most important capability of cognitive mind is the willingness and ability to seek out acknowledge, gain in-depth understanding, and address our ignorance and the assumptions we make to minimize it. Misunderstanding is the big cause of many human problems. First understand, and then be understood, in this order. Sufficient, especially interdisciplinary knowledge is fundamental to spark creativity and gain insight. Only through in-depth understanding, knowledge can be refined to insight and abstract to wisdom.


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