Chauffeur Knowledge

In this world we have two kinds of knowledge, one is Planck knowledge, the people who really know, they paid the dues they have the aptitude.

Then we got chauffeur knowledge, they have learned to prattle the talk. They have a big head of hair, they have a fine temper in the voice, they make a hell of an impression, but in the end they’ve got chauffeur knowledge

– Charlie Munger, 2007 USC Law School Commencement Speech

I found this quote in The Two Types of Knowledge: The Max Planck/Chauffeur Test, which is a great read on the newly (to me) discovered, and seemingly pretty great Farnam Street Blog.

We’ve all met people like this – and speaking from personal experience, it’s infuriating.  I often can’t quite put my finger on why exactly I’m so frustrated – they’re saying the right things generally, but something about it is just not quite right, and it’s being glossed over, hidden, or defensively tossed to the side when poked at as unimportant.

This quote, but further, this article, sheds some light on the problem for me – it’s dishonesty.  Being able to repeat something is not the same thing as knowing it and having the ability to form your own honest opinion or idea about it.

If that’s the case, that’s fine!  Nobody knows everything, and it’s perfectly ok to not know everything, and to acknowledge it and give your opinion based on what you do know (even if all you have is chauffeur knowledge) – but the key is admitting what you don’t know, and being open to what you do.

I know that I’ve slipped into the chauffeur knowledge trap before.  I’d like to not do it again.  Fortunately, Farnam Street (with the help of Ralf Dobelli, author of The Art of Thinking Clearly has this advice:

True experts recognize the limits of what they know and what they do not know. If they find themselves outside their circle of competence, they keep quiet or simply say, “I don’t know.”

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