YOU DON’T KNOW JACK
Todd Dewett | April 6, 2018
I really can’t stand know-it-alls. Have you seen one lately? That person who, no matter what is being discussed, always seems to speak up quickly and confidently with “the answer.” Their response may or may not be correct or useful, but they are certainly going to offer it whether you like it or not.
Most of them are bright, well-intentioned, insecure, and not terribly useful. To all of you know-it-alls out there, here is my message: you don’t know jack! This is a decidedly Western way of saying that you don’t know nearly as much as you think. In particular, you have no meaningful appreciation of what you don’t know.
All is not lost. You can still learn to close your mouth and open your mind. First, you must admit the obvious that alludes you every day: you can’t possibly know it all! Your road to recovery and enlightenment begins by admitting this simple reality. Once you admit that what you don’t know infinitely outweighs what you do know, real learning can begin.
Only then does genuine humility become possible. Don’t worry, experiencing humility does not mean you relinquish your status as a smart person. You can still be successful and confident while making room for a little honest humility. In time, you may find that this humility will attract smart people interested in collaborating with you – people who likely avoided you in the past.
Now, let’s expand what it means to “know” beyond the possession of knowledge and expertise. As you navigate your day, you encounter many people, most of whom you see on a regular basis. You interact with them not based on detailed up to the minute knowledge of their mood and mental state, but based on your typical past interaction with them, which may or may not be useful today. They might be happy, frustrated, euphoric, or completely despondent. People often work hard to hide their feelings at work, so be careful.
When you begin with the assumption that you don’t know how today feels to them, you approach them very differently. You are more gentle and positive, choosing to lead with a greeting as opposed to an abrupt inquiry or direct discussion of some work challenge. Consider asking a question. Inquire about how they are feeling or how the week is progressing. Allow them to share their truth with you, or nothing at all, because the goal isn’t to impose what you feel you need to say, but to show respect for the unknown reality of their day.
Next, consider the people with whom you’re interacting indirectly. When you are talking to someone, sometimes you’re alone. Other times you’re in a meeting, at lunch, or in the hallway. Others are watching you. They see you. They hear some of your communications with others. What are you teaching them? Like it or not, every one of us is a teacher. We are always modeling ways to communicate and behave. What is it you’re teaching others about yourself every day?
On the one hand, you could believe in time management, efficiency, and candor. These are spectacular ideas. However, they could lead you to be unintentionally brusque or caustic, too quickly critical, or unappreciative of other perspectives. When you know how little you know and you bring that idea with you into each new interaction, you are far more likely to experience and model compassion, inquisitiveness, and kindness for anyone watching.
Finally, I ask you to consider the fact that you don’t know what will happen tomorrow. You can plan, forecast, investigate, and extrapolate, but you still don’t have a crystal ball. So what. You make plans and then reality happens, almost always in a different manner than was suggested by the plan. How you feel about this reality is the real question. Is this deviation from your expectations a cause for worry and angst? Or, is it inevitable and normal, a catalyst for you to creatively react and move forward?
It’s best viewed as an opportunity to be flexible and adaptable. The cliché is true: change is the only constant. Your lack of clairvoyance is not an excuse to shirk on planning or formulating contingencies, though in truth we’re always adjusting, dealing with twists and turns that are never clearly foreseeable. In this case you’re smart to stop fretting over what you don’t know so you can begin focusing on tactics and strategies that allow you to learn and adjust quickly. You must be agile, not all-knowing.
Dear know-it-all, we love you but listen up: you don’t know jack! Big deal. It’s time to let go and admit what you don’t know. Spend some time gaining comfort with humility, think about what you’re teaching others, the wisdom of being kind and helpful, and the need to remain flexible and adaptable.
I suspect that when you embrace these perspectives, you’ll find it a little easier to cope with reality – a reality none of us can completely comprehend. I’m also confident you will be helping others find it easier to cope with you. Good luck.