If you work in a corporation, you may have noticed how dangerous it is not to know something—the latest office news, your boss’s thoughts, your own job’s newest development. You may spend a lot of time gathering information so you can be in the know. Someone who admits to not knowing is branded as ‘stupid,’ ‘not ambitious,’ or, more dangerous in a corporation, ‘someone not vital to the team,” which means, roughly, “someone we can lose in the next layoff.”
There are a few jobs where not knowing is honored–research, engineering, science. But even then, ‘not knowing’ is often tied to’ finding out really fast,’ or at least coming up with conclusions about what you don’t know.
How did knowing everything become so important? Particularly since not knowing is the way we get information, the way we learn how to do something new.
In the business world, the importance of knowing could lie in the time- and money-cost of training. It takes longer to train someone who doesn’t know than someone who already does. And for a beleaguered supervisor, training takes time away from the job, so hiring someone who already knows the job seems the best route. A reasonable shortcut is on-the-job training. To the person looking for a job, it seems reasonable to exaggerate skills, education, and experience. That makes us know more and get hired. And then perform poorly. How much more exciting if we could admit we didn’t know, but were eager to learn.
The problems start when the job expectations are out of reach of what we know.
This is no different for an artist than a corporate employee. An artist who tells a coach, “I know how to work with galleries,” or “I know what I need to do,” may be covering over an important part of their life that needs work. Taken at face value, “I know this,” may be a more dangerous waste of time and money than “I don’t know enough,” or even, “I don’t know anything.”
Knowing and not knowing is closely related to control. The more we try to control every minute of our lives, the more we have to know. Not knowing relinquishes control. Not being in control can be a big relief, less responsibility, less worry. But it’s scary to most people. Control can help you avoid what you don’t know.
What a relief the phrase “I don’t know” can be. It opens the door to getting more information, to new experiences, to new perspectives. There is a great release of pressure when you are not in control of every second of your life. You are not so disappointed all the time when you don’t know, when control is not the driving force in your life.
Controlling every second slams the door on exploring. If you can’t be comfortable with not knowing, try seeing it as choosing what to know next.
–Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach who helps her clients explore the need to know and not know.