STRONGER TOGETHER: The Paradox of Knowledge—The More We Know, the Less We Know

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Last updated: 08/01/2024

"STRONGER TOGETHER" is a weekly column where Tanya explores key issues. This week Tanya discusses the concept of the "rethinking cycle", coined by organisational psychologist Adam Grant. It's about acknowledging what we don’t know, irrespective of our expertise on a particular subject, and paves the way for recapturing our childlike curiosity to learn more about the things we don’t know.

By IMPACT Community Services Managing Director Tanya O'Shea

Tanya O'Shea, IMPACT Community Services Managing Director

Sometimes, there are barriers that prevent us from doing the things that we really want to do. Maybe it is applying for that dream job, joining a gym or sporting team, or perhaps even asking someone out for a coffee. My thing is writing a book. And my belief (the barrier) is that while I know writing a book IS possible and within my capability, I keep staggering at the starting line because 1) I don’t know exactly what I want to write about, 2) I get concerned about how much value my book will create for the reader and 3) I think that I need to be completely prepared and ready to go with all the information before getting started.

This response is probably something that others can relate to, given that many of us have experienced moments in time when we have sensed an opportunity and then stalled – shelving it until the planets have aligned.

The reality is that the planets will rarely deliver the things that we want until we are ready to do the work. Prepared to take that first courageous step and accept that we will learn what we need to along the way. Willing to learn through experience, and a process of unlearning and relearning as we develop and grow. This rethinking cycle unfolds with intellectual humility at its core.

According to organisational psychologist Adam Grant, acknowledging what we don’t know, irrespective of our expertise on a particular subject, paves the way for doubting our convictions and cultivates curiosity about learning more about those things that we don’t know.

Others behave quite differently. Their path is one of remaining steadfast to what is known, diligently sharing their pearls of wisdom, and doubling down on their area of expertise in a way that leads them to consider themselves experts in their chosen field. Grant would describe this as the overconfidence cycle, where people are proud of what they know, and are willing to share it with anyone who will listen.  This can lead to an unwarranted confidence that sets the stage for confirmation bias, propelling individuals to only seek out information that aligns to their worldview, and results in a closed loop of validation that intensifies their pride for what they know.

Children approach the world so differently to adults. Their approach is one of wonder, curiosity, and an eagerness to experience and learn. Their minds are open, devoid of the overconfidence and fixed worldviews that can come with age and experience. So often caught up in overconfidence and a need for validation, as adults we can close the door to the very curiosity that once defined our early years.

The rethinking cycle, as advocated by Grant, invites us to recapture that childlike curiosity. It begins with acknowledging our intellectual limitations and embracing the doubts that accompany them. Rather than viewing new knowledge as a declaration of expertise, it becomes a humble acknowledgment of our progress in an expansive universe of information.

Imagine a world where every new breakthrough, every learning experience, was not the benchmark for the culmination of knowledge. What if instead it was a symbol of the vastness of what remains to be explored. The rethinking cycle invites us into this world of discovery, emboldening us to nudge open the door and foster a mindset that eagerly anticipates the next stage of progress. Encourages us to be brave, and ready to venture into the unknown.

My bold step has been to join the Expert Author Community, where I am surrounded by published authors (kind of scary but very cool), and others like me, who are prepared to join with one simple idea. Willing to be patient and explore the world through a lens of curiosity and openness, knowing that the storyline will develop over time. How about you? Do you have beliefs that are holding you back from doing the things that you really want to do?

Please note: This website may contain references to, or feature images, videos, and voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who have passed away.

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