This much I don’t know

For the past few years I’ve been asking my colleagues what they think about my work in a twice yearly anonymous survey. Overall it’s been ok and in fact, it has proven to be my most valuable development tool. But the one area where I have consistently received a low score (25-30%) is knowledge.

At first I was pretty cross about it. After all, I’ve been working in this sector for 18 years etc etc.. Surely they’ve got it wrong! (I thought).

But the truth is that they are absolutely right. If I had to cover for most of the roles in my team I would underperform because I simply don’t have the depth of knowledge in all areas. I think that’s ok though. So long as that expertise exists within the team, and is accessible, we should be alright.

It’s a well established cliché that no one person knows more than everyone. Pretty obvious really, although I wonder whether people really believe it about their own specialised subject. Most of us are happy asking for advice about areas where we do not consider ourselves expert, but how about the ones where we do? This is where I think there is often a missed opportunity for both learning and connecting. Sharing your expertise and experience is revolutionary. A huge step forward in adding value compared to keeping it hidden or restricted. Helping others that ask for assistance? Even better. You could say that these two approaches fit the category of “providing”. In this relationship the people we are connecting with remain, in the main, recipients. There are parallels between this type relationship and the teacher / pupil or manager / subordinate type dynamic. Learning is predominantly one-way and if there is a connection it’s likely to be slightly reverential.

Moving to a different level, the power of asking “what do you think?” is enormous. In one stroke you have conceded that you don’t know it all and levelled the playing field. The dynamic is transformed into a conversation between equals which has the added benefits of creating the opportunity to learn and grow; and opening up the possibility of building a friendship.

To survive and make sense of the world, most people absorb less than 5% of what we can sense. And our senses are only capable of picking up a fraction of what’s there. So our blind spots are far greater than our range of visibility. Perhaps the more eyes and views we can get on the problem the better.