Lack of Knowledge

March 14, 2006
It's what you think you know that isn't so that can get you in trouble.

In a recent training seminar, one of the speakers pointed out the danger of lack of knowledge. He mentioned that Will Rogers once said “It’s not what you don’t know that will get you in trouble, it’s what you think you know that isn’t so.”

It’s what you think you know that isn’t so. How true that statement is. Rodger Holmstrom, a retired FAA Safety Program Manager used to put it another way. He put it this way: “You don’t know what you don’t know.”

I tried to think of an example where this is true. How about memorizing torques or writing them down on cheat sheets in our toolbox instead of referring to the manual each time? We may not think it is that big a deal, but in reality we can be setting ourselves up for failure. Here’s an example from personal experience. A few years back, a crew leader in our hangar was helping us out on a scheduled inspection. He didn’t get much hands-on time since becoming a crew leader, but he was eager to give us a helping hand. He was removing the engine ignitors in order to perform an ignitor check. “Damn,” he shouted out in frustration, “who the hell tightened these ignitors so tight!” I asked him what the torque should be on the ignitors. “Around 30-inch pounds” he replied. Since I did a lot of engine work, I knew better. “Try 70 foot-pounds, loosen it, and torque to 70 foot-pounds again.” In disbelief, he walked over to the maintenance manual to check for himself. He was surprised to see it there in black and white. He meant well, but he could have easily gotten in trouble by what he thought he knew that wasn’t so.

There is a discussion on our forums page titled I'll never do that again. There are some interesting posts with several examples of mechanics that meant well, but didn’t know that they didn’t know.

I agree that what we think we know that isn’t so can be just as dangerous if not more than just not knowing. At least if we don’t know, we tend to go to the appropriate manual to double-check. What do you think?

Thanks for reading, and as always we welcome your feedback.

Joe Escobar