Keeping not knowing in mind

The tag line for this blog is a quote from Dorothy Parker, “the cure for boredom is curiosity, there is no cure for curiosity.” I chose it on a whim when I started this experiment while I was teaching at the Kellogg School.

Curiosity is not a popular trait in many circles. Serious professionals are expected to keep curiosity in check, on a short leash in pursuit of clear, focused, objectives. That’s an expectation that has fallen out of sync with the environment we live in. We need to be more curious, not less, in the world we inhabit.

One consequence of cultivating curiosity is that we need to become comfortable with not knowing. This can be surprisingly difficult. Most of the settings we operate in reward the appearance of knowing. In school, we are evaluated and rewarded for demonstrating our knowledge not our ignorance. So too in the world of work. “I don’t know” is seen as an admission of weakness, when it ought to be celebrated as a sign of strength.

To be an effective leader in this world we need to keep not knowing in mind. For all the knowledge and answers we accumulate, we need to stay familiar with not knowing. This is an active process not a passive one. It is not enough to acknowledge that there are things we don’t know and then stay comfortably within the boundaries of what we do know. We need to seek out the edges and wander across them.

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