Faced with an “I don’t know” situation, is your fear of being found out preventing you from learning what will prevent you from being found out?
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So one of the children drops a question from the back seat of the family car, and you don’t know the answer. Those of us with kids have all been there, haven’t we? What do you do? How well do you handle such a situation of “I don’t know”? Own up? Mask it? Fib something? (Remember that your actions speak so loudly, your children often don’t hear what you say)
In The Information Economy
In today’s business environment we are constantly bombarded with data and information and trying to keep up to date. Even more so with all the new social media opportunities. It is quite incredible what we know, and the rate at which we add to that knowledge all the time. In the information economy our work became progressively more dependent on knowing the answers or having a solution to a question or problem, right?. Quickly.
Yet there are some downsides attached to taking the having to “know it all” too seriously. Particularly if we let it become too much of an ego thing.
Do I really have to know it all?
I remember one of my biggest learning breakthrough’s came for me while I was preparing for my initial coaching training. Let me put that in context for you. Coloured by my role as corporate CIO, I can remember my tension often when I was in the boss’ office or in front of the board. Stress and tension brought about by my then fear of maybe not having adequately prepared for all eventualities and “being caught out” or “being found out” that I might not know something.
Now I can hear some of you thinking: “how silly is that” and I can also hear others of you thinking: “yep, I know exactly how you felt”. (All in the eye of the beholder and what you believe is true for yourself, right?)
What I learned in coaching training was that by feeling that it was a weakness not to “know it all” I was depriving myself of:
- listening to other viewpoints, ideas or facts and
- learning anything new.
Also, I learned that “being the best you that you can be” necessitates trusting oneself and learning how to “embrace uncertainty”. I can’t emphasize to you enough how empowering that is. Learning to trust in yourself lets you enter into any situation with the explicit confidence that the resources, insights, answers or ideas you need for that situation will come to you when you need them. And you know what I’ve found when I do? It’s true. They do.
I don’t know: The Key to Learning
So, since then I find myself genuinely “liberated”. I have replaced worrying thoughts of: “what if I don’t know?” with: “I wonder what I’m going to learn today?” Also, when I myself or hear one of my clients encounter an “I don’t know” today, I have learned to always quickly add the word “yet”. Then I get excited (for myself or for my client) because now I/we are going to learn something new. Most of my clients love this.
It is a matter of choice and a decision to pursue a different outlook and approach. Not difficult to do and massively powerful in terms of personal outcomes when you do. I would urge you to try it on.
The Learning Organization
Expanding this a bit more, I’d like to talk about “the learning organisation” whereby more progressive companies have recognized the value of the information and more specifically how valuable their knowledge has become. To remain competitive or “ahead of the rest” is often becoming a factor of how much better they can leverage their knowledge. Part of that is to move from the old “authoritarian” approach of punishing the making of mistakes to encouraging your people “to have a go” and to learn and advance through being allowed to make mistakes. A “knowing it all” attitude would be absolutely counterproductive to that approach.
Out on a limb, imagine a manager saying to a subordinate in answer to a question: “I don’t know the answer to that, but it’s an interesting question. Shall we pursue it together? Afterwards we might seek some outside input to be sure we’ve covered all the bases”. Imagine how much more empowered and encouraged that subordinate will be than the conventional “fear” situation….
I don’t know: Knowledge Empowers
So let’s reframe “knowledge is power”, shall we? How about “knowledge empowers”? Knowledge that comes from a genuine openness towards learning. From being able to embrace uncertainty and trust in yourself that you have all the faculties you will need to do what you love best, whenever called upon. You can you know? And if you don’t think you can (yet) and believe in my “11th commandment”, then why not talk to a coach to help you with some new perspectives on this? I know that you will be so glad you did.