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Rebecca Johnson

Here’s Proof That Knowledge Does Not Equal Understanding




There is a Youtube video called “The Backwards Brain Bicycle” ( that demonstrates what happens when you mechanically change one thing on a bicycle — on this bike when you turn the handlebars left, the wheel turns right and vice versa. It sounds like a simple change. Knowing that the wheel turns the opposite way means all you need to do is turn the wheel the opposite direction from the way that you want to go, right? Wrong! As you will see, once your brain is wired one way, it is very hard to change it. Knowledge does not equal understanding.

What can a business owner or manager learn from this? Just because you tell your staff to do something differently (knowledge) does not mean that they will easily make the change (understanding). For example, you decide to go “all in” with sunwear sales. You order product and create a Sun Center. You hold a staff meeting to discuss the role of each person in supporting sunwear sales. The receptionist will ask every patient to bring in all of their eyewear, including sunglasses. The technician will discuss the importance of protecting against UV rays during pretesting. The contact lens tech will put sunglasses on every patient and walk them to a window to demonstrate the need for them with contact lenses. The optician will show the patient a polarized lenses demo and pick at least two sunglass options for them to try. At the end of this meeting, you assume, after sharing this knowledge with your team, they’ll immediately adapt and you’ll see a great return on your investment. The next month, you see a slight increase in sales, only to return  to square one in month two. Does this sound familiar?

Think about the bicycle experiment. It took eight months of daily practice to rewire an engineer’s brain. Even once he’d adapted to it, any disturbance, like a cell phone ringing, threw his brain off track again. Knowing this phenomenon, a smart business owner would create a complete, long-term strategy around the change that includes multiple sessions of role-playing, discussion and rewards. He’d bring in outside training, like frame reps, on a regular basis as a confidence builder for staff. He’d also be sure to place total focus on the change before moving onto something else. For instance, implementing new software at the same time he’s trying to build sunwear sales would be counterproductive.

I also found it interesting how quickly his son learned to ride the backward bicycle. I believe this shows that the longer someone has been doing something one way, the more difficult it is for the brain to rewire to an alternative method. This is particularly important for ECPs to remember when presenting change to a long-term employee.

Rebecca Johnson is a motivational ophthalmic staff trainer, a nationally recognized speaker and author, and director of training for Eyefinity. Her honors include the AOA Paraoptometric Special Service Award and VisionMonday’s “Most Influential Women.” Contact her at



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