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Aug 5, 2006

On the nature of human knowledge

I have been on the job for a month. Despite an effort to learn everything there is to know about the School and its programs, many details are still escaping me. Sometimes, in the middle of a conversation I suddenly realize that what I thought we are talking about is not the same you thought we are talking about. Some assumptions just do not hold, because my past experiences are not identical to yours. What you call A or B at UNC may not necessarily mean the same things at BGSU. Sometimes this is funny, sometimes frustrating, often just a bit annoying, because it wastes time and makes me look foolish.

How much does one need to know to make good decisions? It is clear that perfect knowledge of anything is but a fantasy. Therefore, one has to be able to differentiate knowledge that is more useful to have and knowledge that can be safely ignored. There is another distinction: some things I need to know, while other things should be known by other people. No one can know everything; our brains are just not big enough for that.

I have a list of projects of various scope and level. It is close to dozen, although some are related. How do I know that Helix-to-Banner database conversion is more or less important than the new Doctoral degree or Early Childhood PTEP program? Is iWebfolio project more or less important than the retreat we are planning for late August? Of course, there are University’s documents such as Charting the Future, etc. We also have started the strategic planning process this week. Yet I don’t believe most people operate strictly from the plans they develop or set of priorities they set. There is also another way of prioritizing that is for internal consumption. When I look at my to-do list, what mechanism do I use to select which thing should be dealt with first, and which can wait? It is more of an instinct than a rational thought. But then, how do I know it is right?

Events have their own way of prioritizing; some issues become more pressing, and some quietly go away. I cannot play defense all the time though; there should be a couple of projects that are not in response to immediate needs, and do not feel urgent right now, but will make a difference in the long run. I guess this is one reason I write this blog – to remind myself that there is more to this job than keeping things running or make sure they are somewhat improve.

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