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From the Vault: Liz Wiseman's 'The Power of Not Knowing'

Liz Wiseman, best-selling author, researcher and advisor on leadership, spoke about “The Power of Not Knowing” in a Brigham Young University forum in 2016.

“I want to make a case for ignorance — not ignorance as in stupidity or the lack of education but simply the lack of certainty,” she said. “As we gain knowledge and intelligence and as we get smart, can we get a little too full of ourselves? A little too smart for our own good and maybe even a little too smart for the good of others?”

Wiseman stated that she has become a “genius watcher” over the course of her career as she has looked for leaders that bring out the best and the worst in people. Calling some leaders "diminishers" and other leaders "multipliers" to reflect the impact each makes on their work environment, Wiseman asked the following question:

“How does what I know get in the way of what I don’t know but maybe need to learn?”

Noting that a lack of knowledge can be a valuable learning tool, Wiseman noted the importance of taking on new challenges.

“When we are in this rookie space, we ask better questions,” she said. “We are more alert. We listen more. We value feedback. We seek feedback. When we are operating without a lot of expertise, we actually tend to bring in more expertise because we consult with so many people and we mobilize the expertise of others. With knowledge, ... rookies tend to outperform people in both innovation and speed.”

In fact, it is the practice of reaching outside of the familiar that helps individuals reach their full potential and draw closer to God, Wiseman continued.

“When we linger too long on a plateau, a little part of us dies inside,” she said. “But when we step out of the space of knowing — where we are fully capable —and step into unfamiliar territory, we feel alive. I think it is actually where we feel divine, and, in some ways, I feel like it is where we see God’s hand working in our lives.”

To break free from the trap that knowledge can at times create, Wiseman suggested listeners try four simple things:

  1. Ask more questions
  2. Admit what you don’t know
  3. Notes (taking them when learning, starting new ones when they grow old)
  4. Learn to see the genius in others

“We are so often at our best when we don’t know,” she said. “The best leaders don’t have the answers; the best leaders have really good questions, and they use those questions and their own intelligence to bring out the genius in the people around them.”

Read the entire talk here.

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