Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Value Of Knowledge: Undervalued And Overpriced

The greatest edge homo sapiens have over all other creatures on Earth is intelligence. We're quick on the learning curve, bursting with ideas and have a knack of cracking problems with innovative solutions. No other creature has come close to igniting fire with sticks and inventing the wheel, what more speed away on vehicles running on combustible engines and tracking traffic with a click of our mobile devices. It's good being at the top of the food chain. It's good to be king.

And yet, despite our superior cranial capacity, we humans have never seem to have grasped the value of knowledge. How bewildering.

Undervaluing Knowledge

On one camp, people believe that knowledge should cost next to nothing. Every morning, they would religiously pay a few dollars for coffee made from common coffee beans, tasting just like any other coffee in the block and worth five times its actual cost - and yet, hesitate to fork out the same amount for a good book or magazine. They would visit a friend's café expecting a small discount - and yet, rush to a friend's lawyer expecting free advice.

Why is a generic cup of coffee more costly than a insightful piece of advice? One is tangible, the other is not - that's why. One tantalises our senses, the other not so much - that's why. One brings instant gratification, the other just makes you nod and go "Ah, I see" - that's why. Coffee goes right into the head. Knowledge takes time to settle and sink.

It's a strange world we live in. We value mundane objects more than exciting secrets. There is abundance of cafes, but scarcity of bookstores. That doesn't sound right. Even if you really love the smell and taste of coffee, think for a moment: if you invest in knowledge, you'll make enough money to buy all the coffee you'll ever want in a lifetime. Don't just stop at "OK, max two cups of coffee per day", but go on to pledge "OK, minimum two books to read per month". Don't just think about how much you saved, but also what you spend on from the money you saved.

I'm in the habit of giving away free advice. I'm not complaining. I like to help people, even strangers. I don't expect anything in return. But at times, I can't help but feel slighted when people asking for advice don't have the decency to offer a small token of appreciation, not even a cup of coffee (especially when they're the sort of buggers who can afford buying daily cups of coffee). It's the sense of entitlement to free advice that bugs me. Oh, and the perception that my knowledge is worth less than a cup of coffee. How infuriating.

More valuable than you think (literally)
Overpricing Knowledge

Then again, seldom do large chunks of knowledge come for free. Expert advice of all kinds - medical, legal, finance, and so on - are sold at exorbitant prices on the market. 

However, their monopoly on knowledge is build upon questionable means. They tuck away their precious knowledge deep inside a labyrinth. They stand firm as gatekeepers, spreading terrible tales of imaginary dragons and bravely proclaiming that they alone can vanquish the dragons - for a heavy bounty. Desperate doctors and dentists exaggerate our health complications, in order to scare us into getting treatments and drugs that we can do without. Unscrupulous lawyers rattle on about the complexities of the law to make mountains out of molehills. Savvy accountants lobby for financial standards to be changed every few years or so, so that there'll always be a new 300-page guidelines to advice businesses on. Ask a professional what is the opposite of 'complexify', and they will answer 'decomplexify'. 

A lot of professionals are out to squeeze the public dry. No surprise there. After all, in the first place, most of them enter into elite professions on the understanding reinforced by society that it's a sure path to prosperity. They're drawn to knowledge by its inflated price, not its true value.

I, too, once was in the business of giving professional advice. Clients would engage advisors for ridiculous sums of money out of ignorance, laziness and conflict of interest, with little regard to their company's own interest. Once I moved over to corporate, I made damn sure that our advisors didn't rip us off. It's more than about cutting cost. It's a matter of principle.

Knowledge should not be stifled and manipulated for nefarious gains. By deliberately encoding information into unintelligible jargon, professionals get away charging for knowledge more than they deserve. How sickening.

The ugly truth about knowledge

The Value Of Knowledge: Unknown

The true value of knowledge may be hard to determine. But that doesn't mean we should stop trying. Search and shop long enough, and you will eventually get closer to the truth. The liberalisation of data over the Internet simplifies the task to a few clicks. The gap between blissful ignorance and professional expertise is closing. When the price of services fall to a fair rate, people will become more willing to pay for quality service.

Soon enough, we will reach an era of equilibrium, where knowledge is shared and traded openly. No more undervaluing, no more overpricing. No more selling short, no more hoarding.

But till that day comes, I just have to settle with the reality that my worldly wisdom is worth less than a cup of coffee. How saddening.

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