How to Utilize the Limitations of Listening

All successful strategies leverage both knowledge within the boundaries or ignorance.

While having more information than others can be beneficial, more information is seldom required to make better decisions than most people. The point of listening is not to get more information but to collect the needed information, sharply focused on understanding positions and seeing opportunities.

We must be realistic about the quality of our knowledge generally. There is an infinite amount of data that may be relevant to our situation, but much of this detail is not only unknown but unknowable. No matter how much knowledge we have, the future will always be unpredictable. The chain that brings us knowledge consists of many weak links. Unexpected events continually come from unforeseen directions. Understanding about these events is always limited. Our impressions about what is happening is filtered through our expectations, which are too often wrong. Sensory information is limited, not only by our senses, but by our focus and attention. People’s mental models can filter what is needed, preferring what is comfortable.

Despite the limitation of quality information, we must make decisions. Often the only way to win knowledge is through action. At some point, we must move beyond listening the cycle to aiming, moving, and claiming. Only actions test the quality of our listening and the value of our mental models. The more quickly we act, the better. We can gather only as much detail as time allows. Information can become outdated. Many key decisions must be made in an instant because delay only degrades our knowledge as situations change.

Since complete and accurate information is never going to be available, we have to look at knowledge differently in order to make our decisions. Good strategic decisions can be made with limited facts, but only if we know the appropriate methods.

  1. We must compare the relative value of making a decision immediately against delaying a decision.

    If we have nothing much to gain or nothing much to lose, we should avoid action. Action is always costly. Just having information doesn't demand that we act upon it. We must ask ourselves, “What might I win if I act now?” “What can I lose if I delay making this decision?”

  2. We must compare the cost of making the wrong decision against the value of the lessons learned.

    The potential value of a decision is only half the equation. We make wrong decisions all the time because we cannot know the future. However, we must avoid disastrous decisions, those that cost more than we can afford. We must ask ourselves: “If this is a mistake, how can I minimize its impact?” “What will I learn from testing this knowledge?”

  3. We ignore data that doesn't impact our situation.

    In practical strategy, we use the five elements defining positions to give us a solid guide. A vast majority of data doesn't affect our decision or situation one way or another. It simply confuses and distracts us. It may arouse our curiosity, but that doesn't make it relevant. We identify this type of information by asking: "If this information is false, does it change the decision?"

  4. We compare facts based upon its relative importance to the decision.

    In competition, everything is a comparison. If we filter out everything that doesn’t affect our decisions, what remains is relevant, but not all of it is equal in its impact. We must ask, "Which information should most influence this decision?"

  5. We test knowledge consistency against our situation awareness.

    Information that is surprising gets our attention, but it can also be unexpected because it is wrong. Unexpected news can be the most valuable or its can be the most misleading. We must ask, “Does this information invalidate a lot about what has been proven true in the past?"

  6. We should have a prejudice toward acting to learn more. 

    The best way to get better information is often through action not simply by more listening. Situations always change. It is a fantasy to think that we can gather enough information to always make the right decision. If action is the best decision now, it is best to act now before the situation changes. We must ask ourselves, "Why wait?" The answer must never be, "For more information."