The Power of not knowing



I can’t recall the last time I facilitated a workshop where the focus wasn’t on finding a solution, making a plan and developing priorities. We listen to the experts, we hear views from the room, we talk about what we want, hope for and need and we diligently set about making plans. It’s all good productive stuff.


But I am wondering more and more about the power of NOT knowing, the power of NOT jumping to a solution. Maybe even not getting to a solution in the meeting at all.


It’s the long-lost art of pondering. Sitting with a topic and reflecting on it from many sides and allowing the answer to emerge, rather than focusing on picking the best solution.


Solutions are great, they relieve a certain type of pressure, they give us hope, when they seem deliverable and fit within what people can get on board with. But as Peter Senge, one of the exponents of learning organisation models says;


“Today’s problems come from yesterday’s solutions”


The problem with solutions is that they come with an existing set of filters or said another way, bias. Time is precious, the demands placed on organisations is growing but unless we are willing to come to a conversation and NOT know the solution, we end up driving for what will relieve and not what is really needed. It is the ultimate way to limit creativity and deep thinking.


So, the alternative could be about stepping into the power of NOT knowing.


Being willing to deeply acknowledge the fact that after many years of trying, we simply don’t know! There are so many issues that society has not really moved the needle on and so many issues that we seem to need to revisit, time and time again.


“Burnout doesn’t occur because we’re solving problems; it occurs because we’ve been trying to solve the same problem over and over” Susan Scott


What would happen if we allowed ourselves the honesty, humility and space to dive deep into not knowing. The aim is not to build a morbid sense of defeatism but rather discovering that just how much we know about what we don’t know!!


Why is this problem still a problem – for your organisation or community?

What is the organisations role, what are other people’s roles? How many solutions have we tried and why didn’t they work or if they worked why didn’t they stick?


This is not about finger pointing but being humble enough to name what is and isn’t working. No one person carries the responsibility for something not working, leaders need teams, teams need each other. We all affect each other in overt and subtle ways. The key to this conversation is the focus on both collective and personal responsibility.


What does this problem, remind you of? – is this a trend that you have seen before?

Putting profit before people, fitting people into overly ridged systems, making decisions based without considering the people we are affecting.


There seem to be overarching themes to many issues, that are often dismissed as being part of the human condition, but what if there is more to explore?


It’s fair to say that NOT knowing irks most of us, and this is not suggesting we don’t deal with crisis or keep people suffering until they learn their lesson but recognising that something different needs a different direction in the conversation.


Sometimes we need to go backwards to go forward!


This can be hard to do once you have invested in getting a room full of people together that are well trained in solving problem and is about realism and not defeatism. Humans are naturally innovative and purposeful, so the answers will come but only when we ask the right question.


Solutions are not always what they seem and with today’s complexity we need to be able rekindle our ability to let ourselves NOT know.