People never stop learning, or at least they shouldn’t. If you keep your mind open, you will find new knowledge rushing in like air filling a vacuum.

I was contemplating this phenomenon as the New Year approached. Thinking back over the past year, I tried to identify things I know now that I didn’t know a year ago. I didn’t have to think too hard before a long list began to unfold. I’m going to share a few of these things with you, even though some of this new-found knowledge is so basic I’m embarrassed to reveal that I didn’t learn it until recently. Embarrassing or not, better late than never, so here are a few of the things I learned just last year —

  • How some T & M firms make money. Flat raters insist that it’s impossible to make money with typical time & material labor rates. I’d always had nagging doubts about this because this didn’t jibe with the fact that I know plenty of T & M firms that seem to do quite well.

    Then came a letter from Paul Swan (Swan Plumbing, Richfield, OH), which we published last July, showing how travel time charges enable some firms to get more billable hours than are actually worked by a given service tech. In some cases, a $55 an hour labor rate could translate to more than $100 per hour. This explains a lot.

  • Radiant tube usually gets placed in gyp-crete. I’ve watched with great interest the inroads made by radiant panel heat, but solely from a marketing standpoint. I never paid much attention to the nuts and bolts of radiant installations. Thus, I never knew what gyp-crete was until I learned it at last March’s Radiant Panel Association meeting in Denver.
  • The Internet is not to be trusted. Pierre Salinger, one of the world’s most famous journalists, made a fool of himself a few months ago falling for a document on the Internet purporting to “prove” that TWA 800 got shot down by a U.S. Navy missile. He got caught in the World Wide Spider’s Web, which traps the gullible.

With a year’s worth of Internet browsing and research under my belt, I’ve learned not to trust most of what I read on the Internet. It’s a great communications tool, but nobody controls the quality of information, so cyberspace is warped by unedited gossip, rumors, uninformed opinions and sheer nonsense masquerading as authority. Journalists are supposed to be skeptical of everything. That goes double for anything on the Internet.

Knowledge Vs. Wisdom: I could go on and on, but no need to embarrass myself any further. The point is, people continue to learn new things throughout their lives. This is why, as a general rule, the older you get, the smarter you get, at least until you reach that stage where you start forgetting more things than you learn.

And except for one other thing. Knowledge does not go hand in hand with wisdom.

Knowledge is the accumulation of facts and insights and know-how. Wisdom has to do with applying knowledge in making decisions. Best that I can tell, there is virtually no correlation between the two. Some people are poorly educated but instinctively wise. Others are as smart as can be but habitually make lousy decisions. David Halberstram wrote one of the most important books of the 20th century about this phenomenon, The Best & The Brightest. It was about the brilliant people in the U.S. government, led by former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, who engineered the Vietnam War. They had all the knowledge and experience anyone could ask for, but they made monumentally stupid decisions at every step of the way.

Another way knowledge differs from wisdom is that knowledge is immediately apparent, while wisdom doesn’t reveal itself until choices get made and the results are in. Knowledgeable people often seem smarter than wise people at decision making time, and usually get their way. People with wisdom have to be content with later saying, “I told you so.”

Worst of all ... is that wisdom frequently goes unrecognized altogether. Clever people often manage to dodge responsibility for bad decisions through double-talk and historical revisionism. Being smart, they also figure out ways to take credit for wise decisions made by others. All things considered, knowledge seems more advantageous than wisdom to an individual. Society at-large, however, is in desperate need of more wise people.

It sure feels good acquiring more knowledge with each passing year. I’m confident I’ll learn even more in 1997.

Wisdom is trickier to acquire. My New Year’s resolution is to try to figure out how.