Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Nobody Knows Nothing

This may sound strange, but a bad place to be in is when things are easy.

Granted, a bad place to be in is when things are going wrong and when things are breaking, especially if you were the one that is the cause of the break. But if something is going wrong or is breaking, or for example when someone or some group is going through a period of anomie, then something new or something better was needed anyway.

Those are usually the times when our creativity and energy are the highest, when we perform the best. If you don't crack under the pressure.

In the article "Innovative Minds Don't Think Alike," Janet Rae-Dupree speaks of the dangers of actually thinking you know what you are doing, that you've got this one down pat. You enter a state when change becomes difficult because "Why break something that isn't broken?"

The danger is that something that is working pretty well doesn't stay that way for long. But when we are doing something pretty well, we get in this mode of static thinking - it will stay this way forever. Why shouldn't it? Meanwhile, the world moves on without us.

Take for example the horse and cart. There were people who had developed some pretty nice ones. When you've got one this good, why take risks on trying anything new?

But businesses and churches do this all the time. It is hard to move people from comfortable. But you don't grow in the big comfy seat - you become a couch potato.

Andrew S. Grove, the co-founder of Intel, put it well in 2005 when he told an interviewer from Fortune, “When everybody knows that something is so, it means that 'nobody knows nothin’.” In other words, it becomes nearly impossible to look beyond what you know and think outside the box you’ve built around yourself.

This so-called curse of knowledge, a phrase used in a 1989 paper in The Journal of Political Economy, means that once you’ve become an expert in a particular subject, it’s hard to imagine not knowing what you do. Your conversations with others in the field are peppered with catch phrases and jargon that are foreign to the uninitiated. When it’s time to accomplish a task — open a store, build a house, buy new cash registers, sell insurance — those in the know get it done the way it has always been done, stifling innovation as they barrel along the well-worn path.

The groove is on the other side of easy - when you are being challenged to grow and learn again.

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