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The Importance of Learning vs Knowing

The Importance of Learning vs. Knowing

April 25, 2017

I was at a conference recently, and the keynote speaker during lunch was an energetic lady from California talking on the subject of “Learning Beats Knowing." The heading of this presentation caused me to be curious on where her talk would lead.

She spoke of the value of inexperience and how when we do things for the first time, we have no pre-conceived notion of what to do, what order it should be done and what the end result should look like. In these instances we often take paths that lead to unexpected or positive results. On the other hand when we are set on doing things a certain way, we tend to go back to our experiences and what is comfortable and thus achieve a common or expected result. She mentioned experience builds blind spots, emphasizing the more we know, the less we see. The difference in knowing versus learning equates to confidence versus anxiety. When we know what to do and how to achieve the intended result, we are confident. On the flip side, when we are unsure if we are doing the right thing and don’t know if things will turn out right, we get nervous. It is okay to be uncomfortable, and perhaps it’s time to get comfortable with it.

This speaker wrote a book on the subject called “Rookie Smarts: Why Learning Beats Knowing in the New Game of Work.” In it she wonders if it’s possible to be at your best when you are underqualified or doing something for the first time. And how being new, naïve and even clueless can be an asset. Finally she reasons that constant learning is more valuable than mastery, and experience can actually be a curse. 

Quint Studer from the Studer Group refers to the inexperienced as “Unconsciously Unskilled” – meaning this person doesn’t realize what he doesn't know, so he keeps trying until he finds his way. The opposite to this is the “Unconsciously Skilled,” where a person is so used to doing the same thing, the same way he appears to be on autopilot.

So I challenge you on your next project to take the road less traveled. Even though you have done something time and time again, try a different path and see where you end up. If it doesn’t work out, you always have your fallback plan. You may consider this a failure. However, as I have heard another CEO reason, “Failure is okay if we fail effectively, fail small, fail fast and fail forward.”

Give it a try... you could learn something new!