I think this stands as a good tagline for the following story:
There was a story on 60 Minutes a very long time ago about a pilot who was in his last few weeks before his mandatory retirement. On one flight’s takeoff, a light went on signaling that one of the plane’s engines was overheating. The co-pilot asked if he should shut down the engine in line with standard protocols. The pilot said “no,” circled around and landed the plane back on the runway they’d taken off from. Something had felt different to him.
It turned out that the engine light was functioning properly and that the engine was indeed overheating. The data was correct. Things had felt different to the pilot because the reason the engine was overheating was that the other three engines had already shut down. The overheating engine was working harder than normal because it was the only thing keeping the plane in the air.
Data are helpful for decisions. They can dictate routine, automated decisions. But complex, out-of-the-ordinary decisions are best made when data are filtered through experience.
This story was featured in the fantastic article titled “Why Google Can Not Run the World: Wisdom = Data + Experience“.
I bring it up because it demonstrates how we can short-circuit the difficult path of gaining wisdom through experience by copying those who already have it. This practice can help us skip the heartache normally required to learn wisdom, and as the above story illustrates, this is especially true when our mentors can’t explain why they know that life works the way it does.
Often, it is okay to trust the wisdom and intuition of those who should know, because the pay-off just might save you from a plane-wreck.