An accurate picture versus the real thing

Have you heard the tale of two pediatricians?

The first pediatrician has raised a child. When parents ask, “Should I do X or Y?” they respond, “Well, sometimes X is the way to go. Other times, Y. There are even moments when Z makes sense. It often depends on . . . ” The first pediatrician gives nuanced answers to nuanced questions, accounting for the complexity of life.

The second pediatrician has not raised a child. When parents ask, “Should I do X or Y?” they respond, “Always do this. Never do that.” The second pediatrician is definitive as if parenting were a basic equation.*

Earlier this year, one of my teammates became a manager. Before his transition, he saw management how the second pediatrician saw parenting. The answers were clear. Any variation from the correct course was a sign of the manager’s incompetence. Now that he’s a manager himself, he sounds a lot like the first pediatrician.

“This is harder than it looks,” he told me.

I agreed.

I needed the reminder—not just for parenting or management, but for everything I don’t understand. When I catch myself saying “always” or “never” about things I haven’t practiced myself, I am better off showing some humility. “My gut says A,” I might say, “and I’ve seen people endorse B. But I don’t have firsthand experience here, so I don’t know.”

Steve Jobs once spoke about the difference between firsthand and secondhand experience:

I think that without owning something over an extended period of time . . . [without] a chance to take responsibility for one’s recommendations . . . to see one’s recommendations through . . . and accumulate the scar tissue for the mistakes, and pick oneself off the ground and dust oneself off, one learns a fraction of what one can. . . . [People who make recommendations without implementing them might] get a broad cut . . . but it’s very thin. It’s like a picture . . . of a banana. You might get a very accurate picture, but it’s only two dimensional. And without the experience of actually doing it, you never get three dimensional. . . . You never really taste it.

Here’s to knowing the difference between a vivid picture of a banana and tasting the real thing.

I welcome your thoughts,


* This example is for effect. I am sure there are wonderful pediatricians who have never raised kids but still grasp the nuances of parenting.

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