The Safe Path

The Safe Path

The safe path is the one you already know.
It leads to where you’ve already been.

101One of the things I notice as I work with organizations around the world is that the more expert people are – the better their reputations as knowledgeable doctors or lawyers or engineers or managers – the less likely they are to ask questions they don’t know the answers to. That’s not because they know so much that it’s hard to find such questions. It’s because asking questions you don’t know the answers to reveals your ignorance, and that can be pretty threatening, particularly if you think of yourself as an authority.

Ironically, it’s the very urge to feel knowledgeable that often stops us from knowing more.

Asking questions you already know the answers to is the safest path, to be sure, but it also leads you right back to where you already are.

One of the best ways to discover new territory, new ideas, new possibilities is to ask questions you don’t know the answers to. It’s like launching your own personal Hubble telescope, sharpening your ability to see more, and more clearly, than ever before.

“No, no, you’re not thinking, you’re just being logical.” – NEILS BOHR, Danish physicist (1885-1962)

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You Can’t Do That!

When do you feel uncomfortable with new ideas? Probably when they challenge your assumptions or, worse still, your core beliefs.

It wasn’t till 1920 that American woman acquired the right to vote.* President Grover Cleveland was convinced that “sensible and responsible women do not want to vote.” Even Mark Twain, as a young man, was opposed to Women’s Suffrage (though he later changed his views). So contentious was the issue of Suffrage that protests often ended in violence. Today, it’s hard to imagine that the question of a woman’s right to vote would be an issue at all.

The most difficult environment for new ideas is when we think we are firmly in possession of “the truth” — whether about the competence of other people, the causes of climate change, or simply our own potential.

And yet, it’s precisely when we challenge our assumptions that we find the most exciting and productive ideas: surgery without knives, telephones without wires, generating energy from thin air, drinking recycled pee (as they did on Atlantis!), or a new direction for personal discovery…

Our discomfort is often the signal that a new idea may have promise. So tune in to your emotional responses. Whenever you feel uncomfortable about a new idea, pay attention — you may be on to something.

*New Zealand was the first major country to grant voting rights to women in 1893. Australia did so in 1902, Canada in 1917, the UK in 1918.

“Always listen to experts. They’ll tell you what can’t be done and why. Then do it.” – ROBERT HEINLEIN (1907-1988)

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