Don't Know Nothin' About This

Our suggested theme this month is to find inspiration though this quote.

Have the nerve to go into unexplored territory. Be brave enough to live life creatively.
~ Alan Alda

Alan Alda's words are stirring and quite thought-provoking. As I pondered them for inspiration, I was taken by another well-known person's musings on the subject.

Natalie Portman is much prettier than Alan Alda, also very articulate and thoughtful, and not a bad actress, either. Portman is also a proud Harvard graduate with a degree in psychology, which probably comes in very handy in the creative world of film.

What catches my attention in regard to unexplored territory is that she was asked recently to share some thoughts with the graduating class at her alma mater and she chose to talk about the value of inexperience.

This got my attention.  I do not think most people consider inexperience to be of value.  Our society and our workplaces usually look for experience and knowing … while discounting those who do not know.

Portman had much to say about daring to do, even and maybe especially when you do not know. The complete text and some choice quotes can be found on Upworthy.

Portman's message is deceptively simple: Let not knowing be an asset, rather than a barrier. What does this have to do with Leadership and Change? Plenty, in my opinion.

One of the strongest reasons people seem to mention when asked why they did not do something usually sounds something like “I didn't know what to expect” or the more popular “I don't like change."

We do cling to that which we know. It's what pulls most of us toward familiar faces in a lunchroom or meeting room, makes us search for a point of reference when navigating a new place or a complex document, and even has us sitting in the same seat every time we enter certain rooms. We like to know where things are and what to expect.

The problem, of course, is that life does not come in a known and predictable package. We might say: “I don't like change”

My response, “So, what?”

In leadership and in life, change does not depend on whether we like it or not. Life is change, always has been and always will be. We cannot live without changing, whether we desire to or not.

As a leader, you are responsible for helping others change, sometimes whether they want to or not, and whether they know much of anything about their future.

In an ideal world, change would be managed, with predictable and stable steps leading from what was to what is, with stops along the way to adjust, learn, and consider the next step … Plenty of time, plenty of support, and everyone motivated to move into our shared future.

Yeah, if we lived in that ideal world.

Interesting side note: We spend our entire lives changing, so you would think we would be better at dealing with it, given all that practice, wouldn't you?

Consider this:  Looking back, I might not have done many of the things I have done in my life, had I had a more accurate picture of what I was getting into. However, those things in which I engaged without adequate or realistic prior knowledge, have often been the parts of my life where the richest moments have occurred.

I have three observations to summarize my thoughts around using inexperience for growth:

  1. If You Have Not Experienced something, You Do Not Know What To Expect - So quit imagining that you do. Keep an open mind and gain the experience as it comes. Careful planning based on knowledge is prudent, but anticipating in a void without a solid context is not.
  2. A LAck Of Experience Is Not A Reason To Feel Inadequate - >When things do not go as planned or expected, you need only recover, learn, and move on. This equates to a get-out-of-jail-free-card card to play when needed; just don't depend on it to win the game.
  3. Remember That Having Experience Is Not Automatically A Positive Thing - I quite enjoy and often use the statement that some people have twenty years of experience, while others have one year of experience twenty times. There is a big difference between the two, regardless of what the recruiters say.

We have all been at places where we lack experience in what lies ahead. The questions are about how we deal with not knowing. The answers determine the quality of our experience, when we do earn it.

What do you think about the value of not knowing versus knowing during change? When has lack of experience resulted in positive growth for you?