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.

Know-it-all organizations:

  1. Have group-work, but not team-work.
  2. Fear new ideas and methods.
  3. Stress over appearance.
  4. Require command and control hierarchy. The people upstairs KNOW so they TELL. 
  5. Judge the future by the past. Know-it-alls did it right last time.
  6. Choose to avoid mistakes. (But innovation is built on mistake-making.)
  7. 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.)

  1. What else should be considered? (Make it non-personal. Don’t use words like “we” or “I”.)
  2. Who else needs to be part of this decision?
  3. Who has expertise that we might leverage?
  4. 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?