Tag Archives: self-awareness

Replenish your smarts – unlearn and relearn

In a rapidly changing world, experience can become a curse while inexperience can be a blessing. Experience becomes habits and dogmas trapping us in old ways of thinking, knowing and doing; while inexperience frees us to learn, improvise and adapt quickly to changing circumstances.

I’m sure you’ve heard stories about experienced drivers who repeatedly failed their driving tests after moving to a new country, particularly if they were driving on the other side of the road, while new or novice drivers pass their driving tests more often. This appears to be counterintuitive, but Liz Wiseman, in her insightful book Rookie Smarts, states that according to studies and researches “inexperience can work to your advantage: It can spark a dazzling performance and help you compete with, if not surpass, even the most talented, experienced players.”

Wiseman explains that experience creates dangerous blind spots. People form habits out of experience, and with habits, our brain stops working. We become desensitised to the world around us, we stop seeking feedback and we stop exploring new domains and paths. Similarly, Jonah Sachs, in his thought-provoking book Unsafe Thinking cited a research concluding that while expertise can make us enormously efficient at playing an established game, it can also make us slower to realise when the game has changed and less able to respond to those changes. For example, imagine that the rules or the size of the Tennis court has changed, certainly there will be new names who will defeat the top seeded international Tennis players.

Sachs admits that it feels good to be an expert. It is a mark of accomplishment, intelligence and hard work. It brings us esteem and makes us feel needed. That’s all good. The problem starts when the expertise leads us, unwittingly, down the path of overconfidence. When we are overconfident of what we know, our identities and our egos become attached to the unique knowledge networks that confirms our beliefs. This will lead us to defend our expertise from any challenges, whether from new information that runs contrary to our accumulated knowledge or from people questioning our views.

In addition, we generally tend to credit ourselves with having more expertise than we do. Many studies have documented this “better-than-average” phenomenon. For example, 93 percent of US drivers rate themselves as above average behind the wheel. Even drivers currently laid up in the hospital for accidents they themselves had caused were similarly found to overestimate their abilities.

The trio of overconfidence in our expertise, our conformity network ego, and the “better-than-average” phenomenon, all of this do limit and frame our thinking and actions, both in the social and professional worlds. This limitation constrains us in a certain path that celebrates what we believe in and disregards (or worse, devalues) everything else. The endpoint of such a path is closed-mindedness.

Hit the refresh button

To break away from the path of closed-mindedness we need to hit the refresh button in our thoughts and beliefs and adopt a ‘keep learning’ mindset: continuously explore new thoughts and opportunities. Adopting a ‘keep learning’ mindset does not mean we ditch the experiences we built along the way. On the contrary, we need to build the skill of knowing when to play the role of the experienced veteran and when to act as inexperienced novice and seek new ideas and knowledge. That is, we do need the experience to decide whether to see the world through the eyes of the expert or the beginner. We need to know when it is time to hit the refresh button to stop, unlearn and relearn.

The good news is that ‘keep learning’ mindset is something that can be learned. ‘Keep learning’ mindset can be built by being curious, humble and deliberate. Start by embracing curiosity and inquiry. Challenge your own thoughts, knowledge, traditions and convictions. Build a belief that what you don’t know is more interesting than what you know – it is probably right most of the times. Continuously seek and explore. Think outward, build new networks and learn from people around you.

A curious mind avoids pre-judgement traps and makes you ready to learn. This is where humility comes in where you will seek guidance and remain open to correction without regard for expertise or position. This allows the development of coachability and teachability. A humble person with a non-judgemental state of mind is a coachable person, ready to learn, contemplate and understand everyone and everything else.

To make the best out of your ‘keep learning’ mindset you have to deliberately be curious and humble. You have to approach this with a great deal of intentionality and conviction that you want to learn, unlearn and relearn. Don’t just wait until things happen. You need to deliberately become a perpetual learner.

Replenish your smarts

When the world is changing fast, you want people who can free themselves from the past, mobilise the expertise of each other, and forge ahead into new territory. In other words, you want people who can learn and continuously replenish their smarts with insatiable curiosity, a humility that makes them lifelong students, and deliberately adopt an open mindset of continuous learning. Or as Pocahontas said:

You think the only people who are people
Are the people who look and think like you
But if you walk the footsteps of a stranger
You’ll learn things you never knew, you never knew.

Oblivious Self Awareness

A participant in one of my project management training courses said something that was an eye-opener for me.  The training course was a preparation course for the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification.  In this course, I use a lot of sample questions to ‘train’ participants on the structure and content of PMP exam questions.  I usually display a question with four possible answers, give the participants a couple of minutes to think about it and to select an answer, and then I highlight the best answer with an explanation and justification of why it is the best answer and the others are not.  In that particular session, an active and experienced participant said firmly that the answer to a particular question is B.  When I said that the best answer is C and not B, he said to me: “I am sure that the answer is B.  However, I am also sure that you, as you always do, will convince me and all of us with your clear argument that the best answer is C.”  He complemented his statement with giving me the posture of an attentive and focused listener, waiting anxiously to hear what I was going to say.

I remembered this when I was recently listening to one of my friends who I enjoy listening to.  Tarek is a quite knowledgeable conversation partner and posseses an excellent way to describe things.  Tarek paints a clear picture, supported with facts and readings to present his point of view, which forces you to respect his point of view even if you don’t agree with it.  In a recent conversation with Tarek I told him that he is a perfect example of someone who “knows more than he thinks he knows, and can do more than he thinks he can do.”  I urged him to put his thoughts on paper and start blogging (ironically, Tarek is the one who told me sometime ago that I should start blogging and he is the one who introduced me to WordPress).

The point I want to make here is that, most probably, we know more than we think we know; all of us can do more than we think we can do.  The reason behind not knowing what we really know is what I would like to call is our “oblivious self-awareness”.  I don’t think we do this on purpose; well it is oblivious after all.  I can attribute this to our normal practice of acquiring knowledge and experiences.

As we move on in our life, we slowly accumulate knowledge and skills: we change.  We unknowingly treat the accumulated work and personal experiences as ‘common sense’ and we convince ourselves that everyone is aware of.  We believe that our actions and knowledge are nothing but spontaneous and instinctive ‘facts of life’ which everyone do and know.  However, with some observation you will find out that some or even most of your spontaneous actions and instinctive knowledge are not as spontaneous and instinctive to others.  This is nothing but a positive implication of the ‘boiling frog syndrome’, where you are not fully aware of the changes that happened to your behaviour and intellect as a result of the experiences you are continually collecting.

Therefore, you should have more confidence in yourself, your knowledge and your experience.  Continually test your knowledge and skills and increase your self-awareness.  Wherever you are in the journey of life, chances are that you know more than what you think you know, and you can do more than what you think you can do.  You just need to be more self-aware, get into the habit of attuning to what others are telling you, and attract your luck by surrounding you with people who would give you a little nudge.