You may have seen this if you follow me on Twitter:
The signs are all pointing in the same direction… my 2013 word seems to be READINESS. The rub, of course, is in what I’ll be getting ready FOR.
These have been my signposts (a sampling already shared here on the blog, for there have been many more, all seeming to conspire with each other!):
- A D5M practice requires readiness: Revisiting the Daily 5 Minutes: Lessons Learned
- We managers need to ready ourselves, by aligning our energies with those of our team, and key partnerships: Getting the Old to Become New Again
- I have no doubt that happiness is readiness: They seem happy enough. — Goal!
This focus I have, which requires that I work on my own readiness, gave me quite the weekend of self-reflection, and two threads of thought emerged. May I share them with you? Rarely will I ask you to work on something I’m not tackling myself, so these thoughts may resonate if you have taken my January articles here to heart.
One thread of thought was about “good impatience.”
The other harks back to something Slow Leadership author Adrian Savage taught us back in 2006 within a Talking Story conversation. He called it “maintaining your ignorance.”
My parents would both tell me I was somehow born impatient; ‘somehow’ alluding to the fact that it wasn’t a trait I shared with any of my siblings. As the eldest, I got it all, and thankfully, it ran out!
Well, I’ve turned that into a kind of affirmation over the years, telling myself that impatience is good! If they were right, and I got all of it in my family, I should be the one to do something grand with it.
Since I’m a firm believer that good begets more good, I set about redefining the word in a more favorable light. As a result, impatience has never had negative connotations for me.
Good impatience is one’s sense of urgency.
Good impatience is an unwillingness to wait for something you can have in short order, if only you put your mind to it, so you do.
Good impatience is what can get you to prioritize with the determined zeal of better focus.
Good impatience seeks an outlet; it will get you talking about whatever you are thinking about obsessively (or it will get you to blog about it :) and that means you’ll have to walk your talk.
Good impatience pushes you toward the immediacy of great work ethic. Work becomes purposeful because it is of your choice, of your desire, and of your commitment: It is not assigned or imposed on you, it’s chosen.
Therefore, good impatience is grand possibility. Good impatience is the visible, tangible presence of Aloha Energy.
Readiness, Circa 2013
READINESS, the way I am currently thinking about it, is when you combine good impatience with maintaining your ignorance, for as Adrian had explained,
Learning does not exist to replace ignorance. It is there to add to it.
Maintaining our Ignorance
Adrian Savage had described his HO‘OHANA to us this way: “[I want] to build a civilized place to work and bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership.” I was so fascinated with the way he described ignorance as learning (‘IKE LOA) that I invited him to write a guest posting about it for us. I have never forgotten it. This is what he wrote:
“There is finally the pride of thinking oneself without teachers.
The teachers are everywhere. What is wanted is a learner. In ignorance is hope. If we had known the difficulty, we would not have learned even so little.
Rely on ignorance. It is ignorance the teachers will come to.
They are waiting, as they always have, beyond the edge of the light.”
— Wendell Berry, 1977
Ignorance is the only fit state for anyone who is committed to learning. Socrates was often asked whether he thought himself a wise man. His inevitable reply was that the only thing he know for certain was that he knew nothing. His recognition of his own limitless ignorance allowed him to spend a lifetime seeking the truth. Once you believe you know the answer, what use is there in looking further?
Our organizations and institutions today do not suffer, as many people claim, from too little knowledge; they suffer from far too much, at least in the minds of those in charge. Corporate leaders believe they know how to run their businesses, how to approach the marketplace, how to sell, how to manufacture, and how to invest the profits they make, so they have stopped questioning their assumptions on any of these issues.
It is often said that all generals fight according to the principles of the last battle, not the one they are engaged in today. I would amend this to read that they follow the actions they believe accounted for the last successful battle, for success in war is rapidly analyzed and its assumed lessons copied by every other general. Military commanders (and management writers) quickly inflate the specific activities of successful leaders to the status of fundamental principles of warfare (or business management). Even if the prevailing view of what lead to past success were correct (which is seldom the case, since chance is the most common cause of success or failure, and its role is rarely even acknowledged), there is nothing to say that what happened then was not a unique occurrence tied to the specific circumstances.
Only the leader who acknowledges his or her ignorance is free to consider all options, research as many possibilities as can be found, and approach every problem with an open mind, for when we know that we do not know, our minds are receptive to new ideas and unexpected insights. Minds, like windows, can admit fresh air only when they are open. The mind of someone who is sure he or she knows the answer already is tight shut against any form of mental ventilation.
Learning does not exist to replace ignorance. It is there to add to it. Once you find a possible answer to one thing you do not know, that answer will raise new questions in other areas, reducing your ignorance in one particular only to add to it in many more. That is the joy of ignorance: it is never totally removed, so it allows for learning to continue without end.
The wisest of people are those who constantly acknowledge their own ignorance. They know that they do not know, so they keep searching for greater understanding. It is those who are most proud of their current state of knowledge who are, in reality, the most ignorant among us. They not only fail to realize how much they still do not know, they stop even attempting to find out. What they do know becomes almost useless to them, encouraging rigid orthodoxy and unthinking reliance on existing ideas to cope with a constantly changing world. As the old saw says: “It ain’t what you don’t know that kills you, it’s what you know that just ain’t so.”
Always acknowledge your ignorance. Never allow yourself to presume to knowledge, even the little you think you have. So long as you grasp how little real understanding you possess today, you will be prompted to go on learning with your mind wide open to every passing breeze of potential insight. The wisest people are those most acutely aware of their own ignorance, and therefore most ready to question everything around them—including whatever they imagine they might know today.
— Adrian Savage, 2006