How to Build a Learn-it-All Organization in a Know-it-All World
Relationships are pissing contests in know-it-all organizations.
It’s a losing proposition to work for know-it-alls. YOU’RE never good enough. THEY’RE always right.
People don’t listen, learn, and improve in know-it-all organizations. They’re too busy proving they’re right.
People don’t respect learners in know-it-all organizations because everyone already knows.
The future belongs to learn-it-alls. There is no hope for a know-it-all.
- Have group-work, but not team-work.
- Fear new ideas and methods.
- Stress over appearance.
- Require command and control hierarchy. The people upstairs KNOW so they TELL.
- Judge the future by the past. Know-it-alls did it right last time.
- Choose to avoid mistakes. (But innovation is built on mistake-making.)
- Can’t share responsibility for failure. Throw people under the bus.
Beware the tendency to believe competence is transferable. Just because you’re good with numbers doesn’t mean you know how others should run teams.
Beware the tendency to over-value your strengths and under-value the strengths of others.
Moving from know-it-all to learn-it-all:
#1. Top leadership embraces learning, curiosity, advice-seeking, and coaching, as a day-to-day practice.
I don’t advise you to embrace a learn-it-all approach in a know-it-all organization, unless you’re at the top of the pecking order.
If you’re in the middle of an organization, become a learn-it-all with your team.
#2. Don’t ask for advice, seek options.
Seeking options seems stronger than asking for advice.
Say something like, “I want to be sure I’ve covered all the bases:” (or explored all the options.)
- What else should be considered? (Make it non-personal. Don’t use words like “we” or “I”.)
- Who else needs to be part of this decision?
- Who has expertise that we might leverage?
- What have we learned from past mistakes/successes?
Perceived knowledge blocks curiosity.
A knowing attitude is a closed mind.
What are the marks of a know-it-all culture?
How might leaders move their organizations to a learn-it-all approach?
After college, I spent the first ten years of my career working for a know-it-all organization, although I was unaware of the term. They literally hit all seven of your descriptive points, plus an eighth: “Can’t share credit for achievement, all accolades flow directly to the top.” After eight years of beating my head against the wall of know-it-all-ism, I went to graduate school and then moved to an organization that was on the way to becoming a learn-it-all organization, led by a new top executive. The change made me feel like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. There is much “gravity” toward embracing know-it-all-ism, especially in a successful organization. Sustaining the lifetime-learning philosophy was a constant task over the next twenty-seven years of my career. One key was your “Top leadership embraces learning, curiosity, advice-seeking, and coaching, as a day-to-day practice.” extended throughout the organization.
Thanks for adding your experience to this post, Jim. You’re so right on the 8th point. When success is about being a know-it-all, then credit is hoarded and stolen. Sad!
I’ve worked with both types of organizations. The learn-it-alls are lots more fun!
I had the same thing happen to me. I made suggestions to improve on the safety of and educational facility. The ideas were not reasonable at that time. Unfortunately, I left the facility. One day I visited the facility, and I find all my safety suggestions were carried out. Of course the boss got credit for it. Not even a “Thank You” from them.
A mark of know it all culture is self pride, self importance and low tolerance threshold for the learner.
Another 2 key characteristics of a “know it all” organization is one where leaders disdain being questioned about anything (even if the questioner is trying to understand so they can execute the orders); the second is that they don’t understand people who have a love for life long learning. They just don’t get it.
Thank you, Leadership Freak! This is pithy, profound, and positively actionable. Carol Dweck has some powerful research that shows “Learn It All” and “Know It All” differences manifest as early as Pre-K. There are Know It All children who always have their hands up first or shout out answers. When they know or are right, they are happy and participatory. When they do not know, they withdraw, sulk, or act out. Very different are Learn It All children, who prefer situations where they do not already know the answer, but will learn. These are the 5 year olds who are drawn to 1000 piece jigsaw puzzles of Jackson Pollock paintings. We need our schools to help develop Learn It Alls, rather than Know It Alls. Thank you again for helping us all learn today!
Great work! I had never thought about organizational culture in this way. I work for an organization that is about 55%-45% Know-it-All and Fear-It-All. Both are highly suspicious of creativity and curiosity. It has been an interesting journey, getting both groups to m-a-y-b-e extend consideration to new ways of doing things. Thanks for the great information!!
So… I am currently in a “know it all’ organisation, has anyone got any tips about how to identify those organisations that are ‘learn it all’. I am currently looking for such an organisation and am looking at values etc.. however, the ‘fakebook’ and extraordinary marketing and branding of organisations makes it difficult to identify a genuine opportunity. Any suggestions welcome!
Dan, as a leader in my profession, I often glean ideas from your daily newsletters. May I suggest that manners count for a lot and really stand out in an increasingly vulgar world. Please lead the way by not using words like “pissing”. I feel confident that you can find an appropriate substitute for your readers to follow your lead,
During my tenure in Learning and Development – I have witnessed everything described. Spot on – unfortunately. An industry that I love, and have dedicated decades to serving the skills development of workers – the changes I am seeing concern me.