Let the empty heads lead
If knowledge is power, then those who don’t know don’t have power.
Margaret Herrman said, “Power is the ability to change things.” Therefore, those who don’t have power can’t change things.
The bitter reality
Those without knowledge can’t change things.
Who controls the flow of knowledge?
Full heads fill empty heads. The full heads stand up and pour out knowledge. The empty heads eagerly gobble it up like hungry piglets.
Let the empty heads lead
What if those who don’t know control the flow of knowledge? They ask the questions? They control the agenda.
How it might work
Put the empty heads to work doing things just beyond their skill level. Expect them to excel.
Schedule a once a week meeting between empty heads and full heads. A full head has already excelled at things the empty heads are doing. However, the empty heads control the agenda. They determine topics of discussion. They ask the questions.
- Hire curious people.
- Knowledge is honored.
- Learning happens.
- Applicability is paramount – no wasted knowledge.
- Organizational cultures respect effort, knowledge and progress.
- Training is not only preparatory it is participative.
- “What are we learning debriefs” are dynamic.
- Organizations learn the proper path of knowledge acquisition.
People that don’t know frequently don’t know the right questions to ask. How do the full heads give the empty heads knowledge? The empty heads will figure out the right questions. When they do, answers are golden.
Empty heads may make expensive mistakes. Protect people and the organization from costly failures. Managers can’t let people waste resources and make decisions that don’t have long term benefit.
What are the pros and cons of empowering those who don’t know to control the flow of knowledge?
This post is inspired by a sentence in the book Sharing Hidden Know-How, by Katrina Pugh. “People who needed to use the knowledge should drive the conversation…”
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What a great way to look at the flow of knowledge. Reminds me of a quote by Elbert Hubbard, “Parties who want milk should not seat themselves on a stool in a field & hope that the cow will back up to them.”
For the crowd of folks that don’t know what they don’t know, I believe it takes a skilled trainer & communicator to not confuse them to the point that they can’t even ask questions. You gave some great tips on how to make sure that doesn’t happen. Wouldn’t be surprised if some of them show up in a future blog entry. With full credit given of course. 🙂
Thanks for being an encourager. I appreciate it.
Love the cow quote… Originally, I am a farm boy from Maine. Dairy farm. I’ve milked many cows! Love farm life. Hate milking cows.
I’m glad to write something you found useful.
Have a great week,
A thought provoking post for a Sunday Morning Dan. Thanks! It is important for us all to remember that at times we are the full heads and at others the empty heads. It is the combination of institutional knowledge and fresh perspective that often creates the best solutions.
It’s always a pleasure when you leave a comment. Love your point… and it’s definitely true that a full head may not be quite as full as it thinks. 🙂
My brain is now filled, with what ? I’m not sure. My guess is that sometimes we are the full head and sometimes the empty head. To truly lead those around us, we need to know when we are which. Leaders need to be coached and mentored, as well as to know how to coach and mentor.
“Questions are the Answers” is a well known phrase. Understanding that phrase is key. Helping those around us to develop questions, seeking the answers, and continuing that process throughout.
Thanks for the mind challenge to start the week.
Love the quote ..”Questions are the answers.”
I’m wondering if the determining factor on full head vs. empty head is experience that directly connects to the project at hand. In other words, the full heads have done it. At least they have done it they way they did it. Perhaps, preventing the full heads from dumping on the empty heads allows the empties to learn new ways…WHILE they can ask the fulls for suggestions and insights as they see fit…. I’m just thinking out load. The whole post is just a reach into the dark.
Very interesting post. This might work with people who are curious, open-minded and eager to learn. However, I am concerned about doing this type of dialog with employees who may have personal baggage or issues. i.e. employees who have empty heads but don’t know it, who are slow to trust, who have hidden agendas to gain power (even if only to calm thier own insecurities) might turn this into a fiasco. Unfortunately, personal issues follow people to their work place, like it or not. I’d suggest only doing this sort of ‘filling heads’ if the heads to be filled are pre-disposed to soaking up the knowledge. I have both secure & insecure employees in my workplace, as I’m sure is true almost everywhere. And then there is the added delimna – if I was to only include those employees eager to learn, it would exaserbate the issues for other employees fighting their personal demons of insecurity…
I’d love a post on dealing with employees who bring thier insecurities to work 🙂
Thanks for making me think! You always do.
Love your points. Frankly, I had a few concerns floating around in my head when it comes to operationalizing this idea. I plan to read Pugh’s book which I hope explains the concept that I took from one sentence in her introduction. Time will tell. Stay tuned.
Your suggestion re: brining insecurities to work, sounds like a good one. I’m too insecure to address it… 🙂
Thanks for adding to the conversation.
I think you are spot on.
I follow the Jesuit principle that everyone is a leader in some capacity. Therefore, we the “leaders” of organizations need to allow “the space” for “empty heads” to control meetings and ask questions.
Maybe just send out an email a week ahead of time and say, “There is going to be a meeting where (this contingency of people, “the empty heads,”) are going to be able to ask whatever questions they desire to ask.”
I think if we created open cultures like that the dividends would be amazing.
Thanks for this post.
This is getting re-tweeted.
My kids – now 40 and 45 graduated from a Jesuit Prep school. The Jesuit principle of leadership is so instilled in them, it is joy to behold. They were allowed to be leaders great or small in whatever arena they chose – some choices better than others back then admittedly. End result? He’s an Army officer, ‘lots of stuff on his chest” husband, and father of three. Truly a leader of men! She’s a charge nurse in post partum dept of large metropolitan hospital, wife, mother of two. Frequently the go to person in most areas of her life. They are both bright, other oriented, and step up when needed. They were given space to be the people they wanted to be, could be, should be.
As a “senior citizen” I believe that leadership is learned and that given the right amount of space, it can grow beyond that space. My “full head” is frequently empty as I experience the overflow that is created by the “emptying out” of others.
I don’t know that we need to have an official time to accept any questions. The people around us need to know that we are open to receive their questions, concerns, idle curiosity, input, etc.
Thanks for reminding me how grateful I am that they experienced those Jesuit principles.
I think, there exists a difference between empty and full heads. Empty head questions, full head argues; empty head is curious to know, full head justifies position; empty head is direct, full head is complex blob…..
I say this out of my experience. Usually people with lot of knowledge defend, justify and argue more to show that they are right. They are not direct in the approach. The more we acquire knowledge, the more we become expert to present same thing differently. We try to play with the words. For example, just ask someone about leadership and you will find a lot of jargons and impressive words. I have seen, Villagers are more knowledgable than the people who live in cities and metro. Villagers raise simple and straight question, they have curiosity to know. They use simple yet powerful logic to understan the issue, whereas knowledgeable poeple use theories and practices to understand the issues.
I believe, judicious application of both empty and full head traits will broaden the thought process and make the things less error prone.
The empowering those who do not know to control the flow of knowledge depends upon thier attitude, thinking and nature. PErson with helping nature and positive attitude will take in right direction and there will be positive outcome whereas if the person in self centric, insensitive towards people and society, however he may be intelligent, it will have negative effect.
Good thought-provoking post. It is admirable to choose people with curiosity in seeking knowledge before implementing any task to pronote creativity. Yet, it is dangerous and impractical to utilise people for important tasks who do not have adequate knowledge.
It is wrong to conclude that knowledgeable people tend to be more argumentative. They are the people who can be relied upon for the finest performance and they are also adding knowledge by learning new things to fill up the empty portion of their heads.
Finally, it is the attitude that matters and the type of faith the management can keep in choosing people for the deliverables.
Hi, Dan, you have made me remember the story of the empty and full cart. Dad says to son, «… Empty carts do always a lot of noise. Instead, full carts are dramatically silent». What I feel is there are many empty heads controlling the world. I hope the crisis we are facing can change this reality.
I take this opportunity to thank you. I’ve just finished reading the book you mentioned a while ago, «QBQ, The Question Behind The Question», a great great book that I’ve chosen to be one of my bedside table books. Thanks Dan
Thanks for your comment. Love the story of the empty cart.
I’m delighted you found QBQ useful. John G. Miller is a wonderful guy.
Should we add?… If you think you are one of the full heads, you may not be…
One would think those who don’t control the flow being in charge might be distractible and excitable, both great traits for seeking change.
Emphasize #3 and learning involves lots of great mistakes.