The Power of Not Knowing

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.”

Image from thresholdblogazine.com

Image from thresholdblogazine.com

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.

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.

In the next few days, when you feel as if you are being pecked to death by ducks, try saying “I just don’t know” to yourself. Take off that heavy backpack of knowing and controlling and instead take three deep, slow breaths. Not knowing is freeing. It allows for knowing something new. 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 certified creativity coach and writer. She helps people explore their “not knowing” how to draw through raw-art-journals.com (c) Quinn McDonald 2007-9

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One thought on “The Power of Not Knowing

  1. I agree with everything except what you say about organizations; the software development and software research organizations I’ve been in are pretty different; admitting you don’t know is routine. Maybe because it’s assumed that anything you knew last year is of no use whatsoever this year and we’re all just trying to keep up. We hire developers right out of MIT, for example. Ask one of them how often they’ve used ANYTHING they learned there and they’ll tell you “never”. For the last 20 years, almost everything of any use in my job that I’ve known, I learned less than a year before. Projects I actually know how to do are boring. But fortunately they never seem to show up around here!

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