Know-it-alls don’t know it all. They’re just more uncomfortable more of the time because they want their peers to believe that they do know it all. They’ve created a self imposed conundrum…they can’t learn new things because they already know it all. So when they don’t know something they must find a way to pretend they do until they learn it, then find a way to learn it without letting on that they’re learning something new. Don’t be that guy.
the advantage of not knowing
The rest of us, who don’t know it all, have a distinct advantage. We get to learn new things out in the open. We get to ask questions, to research, to say ‘I don’t know I’ll get back to you’ when we don’t know, to dive in to new situations un-encumbered with a need to be expert. Not being a know-it-all takes some practice and is a skill in and of itself. And the sooner you get comfortable not knowing, the better off you, your co-workers and your clients will be.
I’ve been an interior designer for over twenty years. Last week I learned what a ferrule is, what a pelmet is, and that in Hawaii the ADA is applied a bit differently from the way it is applied here in California. Those things came to me passively. They were shared with me in the course of doing my job and were not bits of knowledge that I actively sought. But I was comfortable not knowing because I practice not knowing.
I practice not knowing by spending a good deal of time seeking knowledge. Learning new things is my addiction. Here are a few reasons it should be yours as well.
Not knowing keeps you humble. People who are humble are better team players. They are more apt to listen, to open up to new ideas, to allow others to participate and lead. Humility and arrogance don’t make good bedfellows, and arrogance has no place on a team.
success breeds success
Conquer a new subject, learn a new language, become an expert in your office. Becoming good at something new will not only inspire you to tackle new things, it will inspire others around you to do the same. This kind of success is contagious, and also makes you a more valuable employee (or employer!). Have the courage to be a newbie at something, and enjoy the process of becoming expert.
learners are better teachers
Understanding the vagaries of learning will help you to be a better teacher and coach. Every organization values mentoring at some level. If you’ve learned to be comfortable not knowing, your empathy will create a better approach to coaching others in your organization who don’t know. For you to truly become a master, you must become a better teacher.
Learning something new often provides unexpected by-products. When I spent a year learning sign language it led me to an understanding of deafspace, the architectural design of spaces for the deaf. This is knowledge that I can now share with my co-workers as we design public space at hotels and resorts around the world.
With the growth of the internet, learning has become so much easier than it was back in the days of the Encyclopedia Britannica (which still lives on my bookshelf). Social media often spurs me to new topics that take me down a rabbit hole (when I should be feeding chickens or cooking dinner). It’s also spurred me to take a class, buy a book, contact an authority, join a group.
When it comes to writing for Parti* Notes, several people have asked me where I get inspiration for my topics. It all comes down to things I’m interested in learning (often about architecture, design and food). I have a few sources that usually spur me to open a dozen tabs in google. Here’s a current list…it’s always growing and changing.
- Fast Company
- NYTimes, Washington Post, Reuters, AP, SF Chronicle, New Yorker, local newspapers
- James Beard
- Twitter and all the chefs I follow
- Architectural Record, Architizer, Metropolis
So go, learn, grow, be a newbie. Seek knowledge. Don’t be that guy.
Keep in touch,