The “I don’t know” Manifesto

 In our culture, not to know is to be at fault socially… People pretend to know lots of things they don’t know. Because the worst thing to do is appear to be uninformed about something, to not have an opinion… We should know the limits of our knowledge and understand what we don’t know, and be wiling to explore things we don’t know without feeling embarrassed of not knowing about them.

~ Sir Ken Robinson

“I don’t know” must be one of the most stigmatized sentences in the history of languages. Yet, these simple words are the gate to mind expansion, discovery and thereby growth. Embracing the possibility of not knowing is the first step into exploring and eventually knowing. I couldn’t put it any better than Wislawa Szymborska, 1996 Nobel prize in literature when he says:

This is why I value that little phrase “I don’t know” so highly. It’s small, but it flies on mighty wings. It expands our lives to include the spaces within us as well as those outer expanses in which our tiny Earth hangs suspended. If Isaac Newton had never said to himself “I don’t know,” the apples in his little orchard might have dropped to the ground like hailstones and at best he would have stooped to pick them up and gobble them with gusto. Had my compatriot Marie Sklodowska-Curie never said to herself “I don’t know”, she probably would have wound up teaching chemistry at some private high school for young ladies from good families, and would have ended her days performing this otherwise perfectly respectable job.

That is why I decided to create an “I don’t know” manifesto, so we can all remember that it’s ok Not to know, we just have to adopt the right attitude about it.

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“I was gratified to be able to answer promptly. I said, “I don’t know.””

Mark Twain


Fighting organizational black holes

Photo courtesy: ckaroli

Astronomy 101: A black hole is a region of spacetime from which nothing, not even light, can escape. ~Wikipedia

“Birds of a feather flock together” is commonly used to express how natural it is for people of similar taste/interests/area of expertise… to congregate in groups “silos”. Our instincts as humans suggest that the denser our groups, the more powerful we are. We’d rather spend our time socializing with people who think the same, read the same, sometimes even dress the same as us. And of course such behavioral patterns are brought along to our workplace.
In fact, it has been proven that people at the office are inclined to communicate and discuss ideas with other people from the same silo. Ronald Burt has observed that information circulate within groups before spreading across groups. Leaving thus, big gaps between those silos that only few “connectors” tend to cross. The fragmentation of the information flow within organizations can cost them their survival in an economy as complex, competitive and changing as today’s. These critical gaps are serious inhibitors of collaboration, effective problem solving  and innovation. These gaps are what I like to call “Organizational black holes”.

An organizational black hole is a department/division/team/group… that absorbs information and siloes it inside its boundaries preventing it from being shared to the outside.

How to identify organizational black holes?

Organizational network analysis (ONA) can provide an x-ray into the inner workings of an organization — a powerful means of making invisible patterns of information flow and collaboration in strategically important groups visible. ~Rob Cross

The use of Social Network Analysis (SNA) within organizations has proven to be of great added value for businesses. ONA’s perspective of an organizational network gives great insight on the connections among and between different entities. Most companies don’t even have a comprehensive picture of their employees’ capabilities, how information flows, who are the go-to experts within their organization… X-raying their inner workings helps organizations uncover these black holes and hence, remedy to the situation.

How to close organizational black holes?

Once the picture of the information flow/collaboration/decision making… network is clear and the gaps pinpointed, focused actions can then be taken. The idea is not to have a massive hairball connecting everyone to everyone else. It’s not realistic and clearly not very efficient. The idea is to create targeted connectivity.
Step 1: Identify key network members -the few people who cross the gaps- and connecting them together. This can help enhance the flow considerably.
Step 2: Insure that these handful of people champion initiatives that build communities (an internal social network for instance), encourage networking and tap into the knowledge of the communities’ key members by making that knowledge available and sharable. Some organizations tend to bring employees together to work on a project when they wouldn’t have met otherwise.
Step 3: Recognize boundary members who bring insights and perpectives of one community to another.
Step 4: Wash. Rinse. Repeat. Networks are very dynamic and the need to measure the progress every step of the way is essential to keep the implemented actions on track. Isolated nodes aren’t welcome but neither are over-connected ones.

“The ability to see how something obvious in one field (such as bicycle chains) can be applied to a problem in another field (such as how to transfer power from an engine to a propeller) is often how new knowledge is created. Membership in multiple communities enables that.” ~Tharon Howard, Design to thrive.

Are you willing to let such knowledge slip out of you hands? We know you can’t afford to.

Lamia Ben.

Is the web affecting our perception?

Image source

I overheard on twitter the other day, a funny yet so true assertion: I don’t retain information, I just tag it. And it got me thinking. Wehave been affected by the web in more than ways.I don’t know about you, but It has become almost impossible for me to restrain my urge to switch tabs while reading an article online, or find the patience to go through multiple pages posts. Are our brains becoming wired to only retain metadata and not the data in itself?

The question that should be asked in my sens is, is there really a need for us to retain information?

Albert Einstein himself once said “Never memorize something that you can look up” Would he say the same if he has seen google? Wouldn’t that make our minds… empty?

the true value of information doesn’t lay in the information itself, but rather in our interpretation of the data, of us connecting the dots and by modeling and remodeling infos, getting even more value. 

Bottom line is, don’t overstuff your head, learn only what’s absolutely necessary. STOP once in a while, think things over, play with ideas, connect the unconnected…. Go beyond being the vessel into which infos are driven and become the catalyst of a new knowledge.

Lamia Ben