Who believes in "not knowing"?

July 24, 2006

Referencing Fast Company, Shawn over at Anecdote comments:

Andrew says we should be more comfortable with not knowing and I have to admit I don’t entirely know what he means.

I also have real issues with the way in which the benefits of “not knowing” are bandied about sometimes. In fairness, the Fast Company article is interesting and the following suggestions are offered:

Practice admitting when you’re stuck or don’t know what you’re doing (perhaps in safer environments at first)
Open up to others to help you begin to find answers to your challenges.
Begin to notice the sense of freedom that can come from not having to “know” all the time.

    For me, the issue is less about being comfortable “not knowing” but more – can I manage the anxiety of not having the answer? It’s a bit like our relationship with silence. Most of us find certain kinds of silence uncomfortable – there’s an expectation of dread; something awful might happen; I am expected to come up with an answer and if I don’t then I’ll get into trouble etc. Most people will rush to fill that silence because it can be an awkward place to be. So adopting a position of “not knowing” is, in fact a sophisticated response to managing my own and others’ anxiety. My own suggestions for managing those moments are:

    1. Talk about the pressure to know – if you are experiencing this the chances are others are too. Naming the pressure to “know” can relieve the tension of “not knowing”
    2. Adopt a position of curiosity about the stuckness – what’s the useful information contained in the dilemma that is related to the question we can’t answer? Very often they are related
    3. Stand back from the dilemma and wonder what a stranger looking in at this conversation might see
    4. Pay attention to the emotional temperature of the discussion – if necessary, use imagery to describe what’s being felt but not being said in the moment
    5. Ask yourself – if I don’t know the answer – what is the question that is causing us to feel stuck? What is it about the way in which we’re asking the question that’s evoking “not knowing”?

    So far from “not knowing” – those moments offer a creative way of engaging with what we do know – we just need to pay attention to different kinds of communication.

2 People reacted on this

  1. Good lord, are you saying the biz-buzz boys are appropriating Not Knowing from us Zennies? I guess we Zenfolk will have to come up with a new paradigm to keep one step ahead of the hype.

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