Thursday, August 9, 2007

I don't know

Fast Times at Ridgemont High is one of my favorite flicks. Among myriad memorable scenes is an encounter between Mr. Hand and Jeff Spicoli. Baked beyond comprehension, Spicoli is queried by his teacher. Startled, he mutters: I dunno.

Mr. Hand: I don’t know. I like that Mr. Spicoli. So much that I’m going to share it with the rest of my classes – as he etches with phrase on the chalkboard -- with full attribution to you, of course.

Spicoli does not see the humor, but rather takes it as a compliment: Right on.

I don’t know. Right on: I like it too. It rivals Why? and What if? among my favorite sayings.

We’ve all been there, and perhaps you experience this each day: The temptation to BS your way through a question, or the you’ve-gotta-be-real feeling when a droid confidently, but erroneously, answers a question. Which begs the question: Why is it so hard to admit you do not know something?

You may recall a post herein about The Beginner’s Mind … here’s an excerpt:

Children begin to lose that innocent quality after a while, and soon they want to be "the one who knows." We all want to be the one who knows. But if we decide we "know" something, we are not open to other possibilities anymore. And that's a shame. We lose something very vital in our life when it's more important to us to be "one who knows" than it is to be awake to what's happening. We get disappointed because we expect one thing, and it doesn't happen quite like that. Or we think something ought to be like this, and it turns out different. Instead of saying, "Oh, isn't that interesting," we say, "Yuck, not what I thought it would be." Pity. The very nature of beginner's mind is not knowing in a certain way, not being an expert. As Suzuki Roshi said in the prologue to Zen Mind Beginner's Mind, "In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, in the expert's there are few." As an expert, you've already got it figured out, so you don't need to pay attention to what's happening.
Admitting uncertainty is analogous to asking, Why? It – the curiosity and candor of baring your intellect -- is child-like but healthy. I don’t know is an appetizing conversational entrĂ©e, made even more palatable when followed by, What do you think?

I’ll take curious eyebrow raiser over a confident head nodder any day.

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Post-script: Post-posting of the above, I discovered a somewhat relevant and terse take from Tim Sanders: Just admit it, you don't get it. Quick take:
You say "I get it", because you want them to think you are quick, smart or in-the-know. That's about you, not them.

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Post-script (13 Feb 08): Learned a new term tonight, questionating, thanks to this post in Conversation Agent. Excerpt:

Questions stimulate the brain! Questions use verbs and words that activate key areas of the brain that, in turn, increase the volume and variety of questions.

The more questions, the more creativity and innovation. We like to say that questions open the innovation pipeline.

Why is it that the older we get, the fewer questions we ask?

We’ve found that the most popular answers to this question have been: asking a question makes one look stupid; asking a question is a sign of weakness; and people think they know the answer so they don’t feel the need to ask.

What if questions were baked into the business processes? Corinne suggest four steps to developing a QuestionBank: Identify Question Sources, Collect Questions, Organize Questions, and Refine Questions.

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