How Experts Become Idiots and Leaders Become Blockheads
The trouble with ignorance is it’s easy to spot in others.
I can predict your future with one question, “What are you learning?”
If you’re a blockhead, buckle up for more of the same. If you’re learning, the future will be different from the past.
We flounder in the blindness of perceived knowledge.
Idiots and blockheads:
Experts and leaders who stop learning eventually become idiots and blockheads.
The expert pilot, Captain “Sully” Sullenberger, who successfully landed US Airways flight 1509 in the Hudson River views expertise, “not as something to achieve, but as a process that must be kept alive.” Francesca Gino in Rebel Talent
The burden of fools is eagerness to TELL and reluctance to ASK.
Show up to learn.
Curious leaders choose to:
- Ask two questions before making one statement.
- Wonder what they might not know.
- Pretend they’re ignorant, especially if they’re certain they aren’t.
- Explore multiple perspective.
Knowing too much and learning too little is the danger “experts” face.
“Wisdom means rejecting the feeling of knowing.” Francesca Gino
The seduction of knowledge is the belief that you’ve arrived. But learning is the foundation of success, especially in uncertainty and turbulence.
5 qualities of curious leaders:
- Calmness. The number one emotion that enables curiosity is calm. Hot emotion reflects agenda driven conversations. The hotter you feel, the more you’re advocating or defending a position.
- Compassion. Open minds emerge from open hearts. Curiosity feels like compassion to others. It says they matter.
- Patience. Blockheaded leaders latch on to first answers. A decision is the end of thought and the beginning of justification. But curiosity takes time.
- Confidence. It takes courage to “not know”. Everyone who waits for insight sits comfortably with ignorance and uncertainty.
- Trust. Curiosity trusts itself. You may not know where the journey ends but it’s worth the effort.
What causes leaders to close their minds?
How/When might leaders practice curiosity?
Bonus: Watch my conversation with Francesca Gino on Facebook.
I think this statement “It takes courage to “not know””, hits the nail on the head as to what causes leaders to close their minds. Leaders are often expected to “know everything” and when others perceive they don’t, they’re often viewed as lacking the ability lead. Too often others, especially direct reports, miss this opportunity to stand out and show their contributions. Leaders shouldn’t be the “know all”; rather they should select the right people for the right work with the necessary knowledge and skills. The leader’s job is to help guide them and provide an environment for continual learning.
Thanks Susan. Wonderful insights. The pressure to “KNOW” ends up causing ignorance. Surprisingly, curiosity – that’s not needy – is powerful. Be a learn it all, not a know it all.
Not Knowing is One Thing. But Not Knowing that you Don’t Know is another. In reading about why we have made no real progress in leadership over the past 50 years or so, even with Dan’s truly outstanding insights, maybe the key is the problem of UN-learning. We Know what we Know but unknowing is a really difficult thing.
How many older managers know that they know how to manage the young workers of today? And, if they know they do not know, then how do they unlearn what they know so they can know something new?
Seriously! (I am playing with words, but my intent is to focus on a real issue about humans.) Change occurs over millions of years, but we expect a training course to have impacts tomorrow, even without any followup, simply because people now Know something New on top of the old.
Thanks Dr. Scott. One of my favorite DeBono quotes is “Those who think they know, don’t.”
You’re insight re: UN-learning is powerful. It seems that un-learning often comes before learning. If you think learning is difficult, try un-learning.
I see our lifetimes as a learning experience everyday, from the simplest to the most complex of things.
You have to ‘want the knowledge”, acquire the knowledge”, and “use the knowledge’, or we just wasted the knowledge!
Everyone’s journey is a different time frame so the acquisition of the knowledge base is how much one can absorb and retain?
Learn what works for you, “strive to know what works for all”!
Thanks Tim. Your comment reminded me that we don’t really know it until we DO IT. Cheers
“The seduction of knowledge is the belief that you’ve arrived. But learning is the foundation of success, especially in uncertainty and turbulence.” This translates across professional and personal growth. It allows us to focus on the learning to be had rather than relying on what we’ve already learned. There is always something more for us to gain and relieves us from the pressure of feeling like we should know this versus, what can I gain from this. It is especially at our most stressed and lost moments in life that we need to stop, reflect, focus and learn. We haven’t arrived, that’s why it’s a journey…for a lifetime. Thanks for this truly insightful read. I needed it.
I’d add a couple of things. I’m naturally curious, but I feel leaders should never stop being curious about what other people know, think or feel. And never consider the other person is ignorant, even if you’re sure they are!
Wisdom is not rejection of the feeling of knowing because to arrive at wisdom (problem solving) one has to transit state of understanding that identifies The Problem. Because the exercise is based on fact-finding, feelings must be left behind. This is why feeling that insufficient knowledge is available to achieve understanding is where learning becomes counterproductive. The lack of purpose and focus create an unproductive search for knowledge, academic, for its own sake. Hence knowledge is reflected in basic research, understanding in applied research, and wisdom in market research & design.
Just great! Thanks much for writing and sharing! All the best!
Lack of humility can cause a leader to close their minds.
This post should go on the list of “All Time Best.” There are so many golden nuggets in this one post. Continuous learning is a cornerstone of all successful people. Once we decide to stop learning, we give up on one of the greatest joys in life.
Curious people don’t pretend to be ignorant, they assume that they are … and are thus willing to explore it.
That is WHY they ask questions – for themselves, for a better perspective, for a better fact basis for thinking and deciding.
THIS how they tease out the ignorance in others, and rid everyone of bad and/or wrong assumptions. And contrary to what denpobedy states, emotion has everything to do with it … all logic and a priories are based first on instinct, and only then are rationalized. This fact seems to elude even the smartest of us.
Curious people are intolerant of cliches, and of people who use them to make decisions. That’s how they become authentic leaders, not just in title only.
Then there are those who manipulate this fact to garner power and “lead” by passionate coercion rather than humane persuasion.
Digging deep into this process is humbling and diificult… the heart level rewards are a tremendous experience, the “team” benefits are obvious and exciting. Thank you so much for the continuous help in being directed toward effective and productive leadership.