How many times have you said “I don’t know” this past week? The question has become of utmost importance for the future of our professional lives,  even though our culture does not seem to support it wholeheartedly. 

PUT ON YOUR POKER FACE
Have you ever noticed people pretending they know a new term or concept in conversations? In our jobs, family, friends’ gatherings, many times we feel compelled to pretend we know about the subject of the conversation and avoid being judged or subtly, perversely ruled out of the conversation.  Frequently, you see people with blank faces in conversations quickly pulling off their smartphones and catching a glimpse of a lifesaving concept floating on the net that takes you back to the shore “alive.” Some people have developed fantastic skills to work around those tight skirt situations by asking peripheric questions until they have accumulated enough information to venture into a debate. Those are very uncomfortable situations indeed. And that gets worse when you are the expert on the topic and is caught unguarded by that new fashion term or trend. And let’s face it, given the speed of change these days, if you relax one week on your readings, that seems inevitable to happen. Few people I have seen in leadership positions taking a clear stand – “I don’t know. Could you please educate me about it”, what denotes maturity and top-notch leadership skills and creates trusted working environments. Most people try to preserve their authority throwing the topic to the curbside as fast as possible, so they have a chance to get acquainted with it before engaging again. However, that behavior brings unwanted consequences.

GROWTH MINDSET
Carol Dweck in her best-seller entitled “Mindset,” has shown us the importance of cultivating a growth mindset. Make learning our life motto as the only way to achieve success. Be open to new concepts, look for new angles to old concepts, let go what we believe is the only way. Have that exploratory mind that allows us to ask timely questions and be encouraged to open new fields. However, that is not what we commonly see even though the book first edition was released in 2006. Recently a close friend of mine has adopted an iPhone after dropping his former Windows one. He described to me how difficult it was to be the target of mockery from friends in the period he was trying to learn the new OS and the new ways of his device. He vented “no one was really up to teach me the ways, what I had to ask for every time. I felt like an outsider all the time”. To me, that is an excellent analogy to the ways our culture do not support a growth mindset. I was raised in a house where admitting not to know something would feel like walk the plank to a sea full of sharks – fixed mindsets at best. So I had to learn how to continuously cultivate a curious mind, especially to imprint that in my kids’ psyche. Showing to my kids clearly that I do not know a topic, opens an opportunity for us to think about how to best search for the information or the best channels to research. Open up the possibility of a dialogue about what sources are credible and which ones are not. Finally, empower us to compare our understanding and explore different perceptions and conclusions. We win as a family.  Why not in our work environments?

BE HUMBLE, BE PROUD
We have explored a lot the future of the work in previous articles (collectivebrains.org). If there is one apparent aspect of future desirable skills is the need for a growth mindset. Satya Nadella has asked every Microsoft employee to embrace this journey. In a world where all information is within reach of our fingertips and voice commands, where machines are outperforming our analytical capacity, only an open exploratory mindset will prevail as capable of producing. Our ability to think creatively and make connections where they did not seem before will overthrow all other analytical skills. So, in my opinion, be humble and next time say “I don’t know” – there is your chance to learn something new. Moreover, be proud of being aware of your learning opportunities, especially if you are a leader. That will set your team correctly for the future.  Please note how better the situation would be in the US if our executive leader adopts that mindset. If at least he could ask the experts to educate him in new fields. Much embarrassment could be avoided and progress achieved. Simple. 

ALBERT EINSTEIN

Albert Einstein once said “The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.”  Let’s start by admitting that we don’t know what we don’t know, and that is good!