February 21, 2018

Separating learning and evaluating

Mid sized audienceLearning something isn’t the same as accepting it, necessarily. We don’t have to commit to agreeing with something before, or even as, we learn it. And often we can’t evaluate some new piece of knowledge or a new skill properly until we have thoroughly understood it—tried it out even.

Sometimes we can only learn by doing. Some knowledge can only be gained through experience.

It’s a good idea, therefore, to defer judgement until the learning has taken place—until we have the whole picture.

Being sceptical every step along the way isn’t an effective learning strategy because it slows down the process.

It’s wise—and quicker—to be open-minded. And to experiment.

Do you know enough to not know?

Woman reflectingHow much knowledge do you need to have before it feels OK to say you don’t know?

Seems like a paradox, doesn’t it?

If we know quite a bit about something, we probably have a good idea just how much we don’t know. And we have some authority.

If we don’t know that much, often it seems we need to state what we do know—to gain credibility, mostly.

So it can seem a wise thing when we don’t know.

That may mean we have quite a bit of knowledge.

…and are worth consulting.

It’s not a question of whether you’re interested or not…

Woman with clipboard…it’s a question of whether you need the knowledge.

Sometimes we base our choice of what to learn about by what interests us, but actually to succeed in our goals, we need to learn about what’s necessary, even if it isn’t very interesting.

Many worthwhile goals have lots of necessary but not sufficient conditions for success. We need to get all of these in place before the desired result will occur. Until then nothing much happens.

Some of the conditions for success might be boring, tedious, painful, difficult, complicated, inconvenient, expensive, or embarrassing to establish.

Too bad, unfortunately.

If they’re necessary, we need them.

Democracy or knowledge: Do we have to choose?

High Street sceneWe’re brought up on the principle of democracy—one person, one vote.

We’re also brought up on the importance of knowledge: “If you think knowledge is expensive, try ignorance” (to paraphrase Derek Bok).

But what about when these two meet in opposition?

What should happen when someone in the room has the knowledge and other people have the votes, or most of the votes?

Who and what should prevail?

If, to the best of your knowledge, you believe you have a deeper understanding of something, should you assert your view over others? Can you even do that in a democratic structure?


If you believe someone else has the wisdom in the case, are you ready to concede?

And if it isn’t clear, then what?

How do you balance advocacy and enquiry in your relationships?


How can knowledge and democracy best be reconciled?

Humility and influence

Group in discussionDo those with the most humility have the most influence? Or is vocalising knowledge and expertise an essential part of gaining the attention required to make a difference?

Often it seems that those who have learned the most have the least need to speak, whilst others who are working things out need to express their ideas outwardly.

Of course, we need to remember some people like to process internally and others externally as a matter of preference, so we need to take that into account.

That allowed for, sometimes it’s the quieter ones—the ones with humility—that really have the knowledge, and in fact the greater influence. Perhaps they know enough to know how much they don’t know, and so we trust them more.

What’s your experience?

Are we too busy justifying ourselves to let knowledge in?

Woman making an emphatic pointIt’s a curious thing…

When we have someone with knowledge or authority in front of us, do we get them talking in order to learn as much as we can from their expertise? Or do we take more of the airtime ourselves, because we feel a greater need to explain what we have done and why?

It’s easy to fall into the trap of paying for someone else’s expertise and then filling the space with our own information; not letting them get close enough to make a difference.

Why does this happen?

It feels safer, I suppose, to discuss the familiar, even if the familiar is the problem, and the unfamiliar is the answer, or part of the road to the answer.

Are you too busy justifying yourself to let people help you?

It’s smarter to let knowledge in.

Are you an architect or a gardener?

House and gardenIt is said that “The policy maker should act as a gardener not an architect.” In other words, the policy maker will do better to support good ideas that emerge rather than direct from on high.

I connect that with experience of some organizations that assume new ideas cannot come from external sources and innovation can only be initiated within. But they have no monopoly on knowledge.

On the other hand, sometimes the leader really does know best.

When it comes to change, do you direct as an architect, or nurture new growth as a gardener?

Do you develop a vision and then command its realization, or do you hold space for new things to emerge?

The art, of course, is in holding these opposing dynamics in balance.