The positive power of confusion
Have you ever noticed that people seem to know how to do what they aren’t doing? Those who don’t do – know.
It’s easy to know how-to-do something you’re not doing.
During seminars/training, people come to a point where they think they know. Being told how to do things makes them feel they can do them. I call this the illusion of perceived knowledge.
KNOWING ABOUT differs from KNOWING HOW.
You can burst the illusion of perceived knowledge by saying, “Ok, now do it on your own.” It doesn’t take long for casual confidence to become confusion. Doing new things reveals that we don’t know as much as we think.
Confusion is a teachable moment.
Ask people to do things they haven’t done before
Give them guidance and support
Let them struggle without your intervention
You help others reach higher by
creating moderate levels of confusion.
Too much confusion
Moderate levels of confusion open minds and fuel passion. However, don’t push it too far or people will shut down in frustration. In addition, your organizational culture must embrace a positive, learning posture toward failure. Fail smart.
You might try this with arrogant sons or daughters, know-it-all employees, or over confident managers.
How can leaders lead and support others through their confusion without destroying the potential of confusion?
What dangers do leaders face if they create moderate levels of confusion?
“Illusion of Persived knowledge” excellent parse Dan.
When we attend seminars or trainings it seems that we had perceived so much of knowledge about the topic, but when we really try to implement we are struck.
This is because the knowledge that’s transferred by the people via seminar/training is the knowledge gained from their experience and experiment on the particular topic over the years. I could see the perceived knowledge as a key for opening up the doors which has enormous amount of information hidden behind it, exploring the information practically enables the implementation of our perceived knowledge. Unless and until we try and explore things, the perceived knowledge will always remain as an illusion.
Usually when people try to explore, they see that the information are scattered in a chaotic manner, and they become confused on how to proceed further.
Confusion occurs because of contradicting thoughts and lack of clarity on the core things that we try to explore.
If one could struggle and explore things breaking down the confusions, it will teach you lot of lessons on, How to reach the path? What are the right ways of reaching the path? What are the wrong ways that we should not try?
Over the all it instills the confidence on breaking or dealing with upcoming confusions.
We need to develop a habit of cracking confusions, because every exploration starts with little confusion and every exploration leas us to step into the next level.
“Illusion of Persived knowledge” excellent phrase Dan – A correction 🙂
Thanks for your comment.
I appreciate your perception that those leading training often share the results of long years of experience…then the participants expect to master the concepts in a few hours.
“Every exploration starts with confusion.” NICE!
Have a great day,
I agree Dan, “the illusion of perceived knowledge” is a very apropos description.
What your post this morning calls up for me is something that artisans often face at shows. (I’m in the middle of holiday show season, so it’s pretty fresh in my mind and there have been recent discussions amongst the artists I know.)
In our experience, there seems to always be someone who comes through a handmade market, and says, “Ugh, I can do that, and that, and that,” summing up an artist’s or artisan’s work as being without value because this person believes they can do it too. Not everyone is that bold to say such things out loud, but it is often thought. I’ve been guilty of similar thoughts in the past too and believe me, it’s an illusion! One of my fellow artisans had a great answer for people when they came through our market with “I can do that.” “Yes,” she’d say, “but will you?” Whether they can or they can’t doesn’t matter. In our modern age we tend to disrespect the time and skill that goes into handcrafting something, in part because we no longer see the processes or people behind what lines the store shelves. And this is true of many other skills in life, not just art.
Instead of feeling bad or complaining about it, one of the measures our juried group took to help shift this attitude, was to create shows where the artists did demos of the kind of work they did. It’s the same concept in a way that Maker Faire has later promoted.
For instance, some people might think of chain-mail as simply a bunch of linked rings, right? Simple process; nothing to it. That is, until they had a chance to try it themselves. Suddenly they came away with a greater appreciation for the skill as well as design process. Another artisan friend of mine specializes in jewelry made from local seeds. People might not think much of that until they learned about her process to harvest and hand process these seeds until they were suitable to be used in jewelry.
The same thing for the other artists, from silversmithing, to pottery, to sewing, to carving, to even crochet. Letting people watch us work and listen to us talk about our fields and design processes and even let them give it a try or be a part of the creative process with us. As you pointed out above, it became a teaching opportunity.
Reasons for doing this were multi-fold. 1) It helped preserve a sense of respect for handwork and helped dispel assumptions. Even those who might be familiar with a type of art would find themselves learning something new. 2) It was educational, family oriented and added to the positive memories and experiences of the folks coming through our market. (Important for marketing too.) 3) It helped to inspire others to try something themselves and further the love of art and handwork. It became more than just a commodity. 4) Not to mention it definitely helped sales.
So in correlation to your post today, I see that like our juried market, when you give folks a chance to learn and have a hands on experience, you can accomplish three things: 1) Demystify something so it’s approachable, yet 2) instill respect for it in that maybe it’s not as simple as it seems and 3) inspire them to get in there and learn more.
I’ll be busy, hope y’all have a great weekend!
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There may be one step or piece of the foundation to ensure positive outcome before stirring the cauldron of confusion and that would be imparting that you deeply believe in that person and their abilities. As a leader, you hopefully have demonstrated and restated that many times and in many ways before the fruit basket upset. If I know someone truly believes in, and maybe is even counting on me, I will persevere that much more.
This subject may also align with confusion or dealing with change or just stressful situations, in this case the perceptions of eustress and distress. Stress is not good or bad, however it can be positive or negative. While the person in the confusing situation may see distress, it can sometimes convert to eustress. That can be a choice or an attitude to adopt/adapt. What we tell ourselves in those moments has a huge impact on outcomes. In the stressful moment it may not be so easy to do, but is another perspective.
Your second question, Dan, for me refers to ‘pace’. How leaders pace confusion, change, stress all very important. The leader has to read the more subtle cues on how people are dealing with stress and not just depend on their own catlike sense of how confusing or stressful the situation is.
Hmmm, Dan is there yet another thread related to illusions of leadership? Perhaps a variation on the emperor’s new clothes… 😉
There is a lot of truth (and potential for real-life application) in this post! I had a burnt out headlight in my car a while back. My spouse kept promising to fix it, but it had taken too long for my taste (and a previous traffic stop when the headlight had been out in a different vehicle made me super-cautious about driving around with just one headlight). I found myself home with everyone asleep, knowing that I would be out past dark the next night and resigning myself to a “now or never” option for trying to replace the headlight myself. I read the instructions in the manual. I tried to follow the instructions in the manual. I kept failing to follow the instructions in the manual, which referred to a “C” clamp. I was definitely confused. I went to “e-how.com” and looked up “replacing a Honda CRV headlight” – some genius had put step by step directions, along with a PICTURE of what the c clamp looks like AND the advice that you need a mirror in order to see the thing b/c it’s so recessed. Hands a bit greasier, I got the job done. I’ll bet whoever posted that set of instructions on e-how has seen enough people “struggling without intevention” that (s)he figured out that, in this case, the “right blend of guidance and support” would require specific instructions and a mirror!
As far as the dangers leaders face if they create moderate levels of confusion … some things may fall through the cracks, or not be done in the way the leader envisioned. But in the same way that an oyster needs a little irritation to create a pearl, an organization without enough confusion to make people hungry to find solutions is probably pretty static and nonproductive.
Seth Godin presents an interesting concept in this statement: So I’ve experienced the feedback you get when you draw a map, and it’s nice, but the real win is helping people draw their own. To see the world as it is. That’s a lot more difficult. People need glasses, not a map. (Taken from http://gapingvoid.com/2010/01/21/linchpin-ten-questions-for-seth-godin/
You’ve experienced that feeling of being driven to a destination and not having a clue how you arrived? When you allow someone to “draw their own map,” even if it means they add some detours and stops you would not have incorporated, it’s my guess they will be a lot more likely to be able to find the destination on their own in the future.
I just read an article that had some passages that seem relevant for today’s discussion. Among those passages:
…recreate boundaries that technology has broken down so that you have some time actually to think when you’re at work. Turn it off. Close the door. Don’t jump online the minute you feel frustrated or vexed. Push on. Grapple with the problem. Go deep. Persist. Don’t allow intrusions into the precious process of creative thought.
The full article (Will Focus Make You Happier by Edward Hallowell) is at this link: http://s.hbr.org/cJ12D3
Great Post Dan:
Socrates is credited with saying: “To know, is to know that you know nothing. That is the meaning of true knowledge.”
When we acknowledge that we do not always know – we embrace confusion and learn from it. When I was in grad school, my finance professor taught soctratically. I was always confusied. We cursed him, complained about him, and ultimately learned more from him than in any other course.
Today, in my business, we have a three step process that focuses on 1) What to do, 2) How to do it, and 3) Helping to do it when help is needed. Interestingly – when we do steps 1 and 2 well, we rarely need to move to step 3.
I am very familiar with people knowing how to do stuff, while someone else is in charge of actually making it anyway.
They give opinions and views on things which aren’t their own, providing “good ways” of taking on problems or even – the worst case of them all – mentioning how easy a task is while not having a clear idea in their mind in first place.
It’s hard to counter this, but I agree that a “ok, then do it” approach is a good start, with moderation.
I agree to find solutions in how to do something correctly, we often need to be confused. The brain (or at least my brain) does not appreciate confusion, and wants to first find a way to organize the information and get rid of confusion, or just dump it out as useless information. As as result – I have found that we all want to find the solution and rid ourselves of the nagging confusion, which can result in finding innovative methods (such as you need a mirror in Paula Kiger’s example). It is a puzzle that we are encouraged to solve. Although as you have stated, if it is too confusing, it will be dropped or eliminated as garbage – which is not necessarily bad as takes the issue back to the drawing board. If it was too confusing, simplify and send out to team again.
I feel creating moderate levels of confusion is about right for folks who need it.
Some can’t even take minimal levels of confusion. They might need more hand-holding. As for the know-it-all’s, feel free to mix them up a little. Humility can arise out of a somewhat chaotic situation for the ego tends to shut up when things get a little dicey.
Confusion needs to be introduced because a great deal of understanding sprouts out of the admission that we don’t understand.
Thanks for sharing and have a powerful day!
This is great! Think of the whole array of new seminar and consulting opportunities that it opens up! New job positions, too: CCO: Chief Confusion Officer!
Sarcasm aside, however, the basic concept is correct, yet too often when followed involves the “confusion counselor” intentionally placing traps and pitfalls where they are not necessary in the instruction process — like the “authors” of some of the instructional manuals mentioned in other comments!
Route-finding and orienteering skills do lead from “let them draw the map” exercises, once “The Basics” are taught correctly.
Our society is using too many synonyms – many in new and previously unintended ways (further sowing confusion) – when just “telling it like it is” may produce more efficacious results.
I agree that there exists a gap between knowing and doing. The difference is experience and that makes all the difference. Even the person who does not know but has done, matters more than knowing only. I think the people who usually say ” I know it” are either shield them or create mask of being at par with others who have done it. It seems sound that knowing casualy creates confusion.
Now the question that states “How can leaders lead and support others through their confusion without destroying the potential of confusion? I think when leaders say ” I know it” , it sends message to people that they can not pretend or deceive leader. It also creates confidence to the people because they think, they can take any suggestions, guidance and insights from leader in case of any confusion, though it might not be true.
However, When leader is honest in admitting that he does not know, it actually creates confusion and lower confidence of people. So, leader has to create positive and energetic environment where followers become more confident, more cohesive and have more faith in the leader. To do this , leaders have to put masks sometimes but that masks is desireble.
When leaders create moderate levels of confusion the main danger is to prevent creativity, curiosity and passion among the people. The level of confusion should challenge them to think beyond boundary. Moderate level of confusion may not arouse challenges and enthusiasm because it might be easy to solve. Creating moderate level of confusion actually depends upon the knowledge, skills and experience of the team. In case of higher KSE, moderate level of confusion does not encourage people and in case of lower KSE, moderate level of confusion may encourage people to work on their potential and capabilites.
I love, love this article ! Thank you ; )