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The Power of Not Knowing

February 2, 2012

Recently, I wrote about the importance of not knowing and how it opens us up to new learning, even (and perhaps especially) in areas that we think we know well.

Just because you’re an expert and do indeed know an area quite well doesn’t mean you’ve got nothing new to learn. For example, Wisegate members are some of the top experts in the IT field. One of the services we provide these senior leaders is a professional match-making service in which we bring members together who have similar jobs, similar roles, similar challenges and by virtue of this can help each other. We get these members together on calls to talk about a specific topic with which they are wrestling. Recently, we had a group of senior privacy officers talking about the challenges of navigating the ever-changing labyrinth of privacy requirements.

During the call, a member posed questions to the group, then each member in turn would offer an answer or pass. At the end of the call, that first member said to me, “That was incredibly helpful. Those little pragmatic tips are valuable; I can’t get those anywhere else.”

But then added (tongue firmly planted in cheek), “Except for that one person who has it all figured out.” We did have one member on the call who felt he knew it all — and said so. Nothing left to learn, nothing left to ponder.

I would be willing to bet he didn’t learn much from that call. Not because there was nothing left for him to learn, but because he spent the time with an attitude of “I already know.” I have since heard from other members who were on that same call — all senior IT people with lots of experience in this specific area — that in the sharing and in the asking, they got help. And now they know more.

In our society, it is not easy to not know. We are rewarded and recognized from a very young age for knowing, having the right answer, appearing to have it all together. Funny thing is, that very appearance often discourages others from offering insights that might be enormously helpful to us. So by not being open about the fact that we don’t know (because no one knows everything), we end up knowing less than we could have.

Try not knowing for one conversation this week. See what happens. I’ll try it too.



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