I Don't Know!

I read a post by Cory Banks cory.banks@gmail.com today in the ActKM forum discussing the knowledge worker's vital skill of being able to admit they don't know something and even point to somebody else who does.

The full discussion is copied below, but the bit I really liked was Cory's discussion of social/cultural conditioning and the role it plays in whether people feel they can do this or not. It fits well into my Knowledge Culture notes from Melbourne Uni where I discussed the overlapping of cultural and social norms to form a complex array of acceptable behaviours within an individual, for example: If I saw somebody fly across the lounge-room and slam my son into the wall I would be quite upset, however if I see that happen on a hockey rink then I will yell for him to get up and retaliate by scoring another goal. The activity and community surrounding it play a large part in how we view social norms and while I agree with Cory that they are hard to change, I also feel that generating a "New Social Space" allows a person to become detached in a way from previous situations and more easily act outside the over-riding social comfort zone that one normally performs within.

I don't think mapping out your strengths and weaknesses or what you know and don't know is relevant.

I do think you have touched on the right track with the culture and acceptable behaviours in the work environment. I think this also goes back to your upbringing/conditioning and to whether or not you were supported in telling people you did not know something. Peer pressure in the school yard comes to mind.

This is obviously conditioning that is very difficult to undo (unlearn).

I will draw a parallel to challenges faced by coaches of elite athletes (national teams). When working with an athlete there are certain basics and fundamental skills that have got them to this level but do they have the potential to develop further? Is their progress hindered by flawed technique. Do you tolerate the flaws and take them as far as they can go with the flaws or do you try to pull thier technique apart and put them back together? This takes a lot of hard work and effort because the athletes are unconsciously competent. They no longer have to consciously think about kicking the ball of throwing a pass. It has become reflex.

So to this extent I say it can be very difficult to 'teach' someone how to be a knowledge worker if they have not been supported to put up their hand and say "I don't know, but I know someone who does.".

Sidebar: This reminds me of a documentary I recently saw about the working life of the Australian Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, on Australian Story (ABC). In his interactions with his staff he stipulated from day 1 if you don't know just say so. They actually showed some footage from his team meetings and what was interesting was seeing people almost choking on the words "I don't know", but there were no repercussions. It was also said that people were to never, ever pretend, assume or make something up!


Cory Banks

LinkedIn Profile: http://www.linkedin.com/in/corza

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