The Strategist

Unlearn what you have learned: How ignorance prevents our victories

09/06/2019 - 08:12

Sometimes we worry that we may seem ignorant, inattentive, incompetent. We are afraid to fail in public. We are not asking questions for which we supposedly should already know the answer. But this is precisely what prevents us from moving forward and coping with important tasks.

Fear of "exposure" makes many people hide behind their ignorance and put up with problems that cannot be resolved.

It can be psychologically difficult to ask questions. People are afraid to look silly in front of acquaintances, colleagues and clients. Imagine that at a party near the snack table someone calls your name: “It's so nice to see you again!” You freeze for a second: “Oh my God, I don’t remember what this guy’s name is.” At the same time, you try your best not to show it. "Hello! How is yours ... - a quick look at his ring finger (there is an engagement ring, great!), - family?”

It happens that we don’t even admit ignorance to ourselves: it’s much easier to think that we have an idea about solving a problem and can take action. We are taught to do so early in our childhood: we are used to receiving rewards if we immediately give the correct answer and immediately proceed with actions. In any case, the desire to hide behind ignorance is expensive.

It’s not easy to accept this feature. Often we know 90% of what is required. But these last 10% is what lies between us and the elegant solution to the problem.

The Library of Congress holds more than 16 million books and 120 million other documents, the Boeing 747 contains more than 6 million details, and the Internet has more than 1 billion sites. There is no person in the world who knows absolutely everything.

When solving a problem, admit your ignorance and feel free to show it to others. Competent questions debunk established ideas, give a new understanding and allow those who are better versed in the process or system to share their knowledge and experience.

Moving to the true cause of the problem requires a fresh look and readiness to learn.

Right now: accept your ignorance.

Think and find what you do not understand entirely. Think about a question that forces you to resort to pretense and self-deception. Maybe this is a particular device in a car with a manual gearbox, or a country ranking third in the world in terms of population?

The next time someone talks about something you don’t know, stop him and ask a question. Moreover, do it even if you are confident in the answer. Get yourself used to feel comfortable, gaining new knowledge.

In one episode of Star Wars, Master Yoda utters the phrase: “You must unlearn what you have learned.” It is time to listen to him.

Based on "Stop Guessing. The 9 Behaviors of Great Problem Solvers" by Nat Greene