About Conversation Kindling

The purpose of this blog is to share stories, metaphors, quotes, songs, humor, etc. in hopes they'll be used to spark authentic and rewarding conversations about working and living fruitfully. There are at least three things you can gain by getting involved in these conversations. First, you'll discover new and important things about yourself through the process of thinking out loud. Second, you'll deepen your relationships with others who participate by swapping thoughts, feelings, and stories with them. Finally, you'll learn that robust dialogue centered on stories and experiences is the best way to build new knowledge and generate innovative answers to the questions that both life and work ask.


I write another blog called My Spare Brain. This is where I am "storing" ideas for use in future books, articles, blog posts, speeches, and workshops. There is little rhyme or reason for what I post there. I do this to encourage visitors to come as treasure hunters looking for new ways of seeing and thinking vs. researchers looking for new or better answers to questions they already know how to ask.

16 July 2010

Knowers and Learners

Former longshoreman and writer Eric Hoffer said:
"In times of change, learners inherit the Earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists."
Hoffer made that statement many years ago, but it's never been more important to truly understand what he meant. To help me think about it, I like to draw a clear distinction between knowers and learners.
  • Knowers see learning as a destination; learners see it as a journey
  • Knowers seek certainty; learners seek plausibility
  • Knowers see their truth as the only truth; learners are open to others' views
  • Knowers base their self esteem on being right; learners base theirs on contribution
  • Knowers can't be wrong, so if they make a mistake they find someone or something else to blame; learners can make mistakes, admit they don't have all the answers, and continue to be part of the solution
  • Knowers find it difficult to adapt to change, and become weaker, less effective, and less influential over time; learners, who more readily adapt, become stronger, more effective, and more influential
A story that illustrates the difference between knowing and learning involves former NHL star Brett Hull and what happened to some advice he gave me to pass along to my two hockey-playing sons.
"First, make sure they get the basics down cold, because you can’t be a great hockey player if you can't skate, pass, and shoot. Second, have them develop a signature move, or something they become really well known for."
When I sat my boys down to pass on Brett’s advice, they both got the work on the basics part right away. They were a little slow on the uptake, however, when I told them they needed to develop a signature move. Once I explained, each had a different reaction.

My oldest – the knower – said he already had one - scoring goals - and sprinted off. He spent most of the rest of his hockey career trying to do that, and the older he got, the less successful he became. In his senior year of high school, his coach told him that his strength was playing defense. Once he got that through his head - it was either that or sit on the bench - he led his team to the Minnesota State High School Tournament. Despite his success, however, he still sees his hockey strength as scoring goals. He is a knower in all other aspects of life as well, and I often wonder if it's a trait he inherited - from his mother of course. I say that tongue-in-cheek, but I really can relate to the following classified ad:
"FOR SALE CHEAP! Complete Set of Encyclopedia Britannica. 45 volumes. Excellent condition. $100 or best offer. No longer needed. Got married last week. Wife knows everything."
My youngest, on the other hand, proved himself a learner; he looked at me and said:
“Dad. How can I get a one of those moves?”
I asked:
“What are you really good at?”
He said:
“I really like to hit people.”
So, we had a brainstorming session and he came up with the idea that he would be the Little Assassin, the fastest, meanest, little son-of-a-gun on the ice. This combined a couple of ideas. First, he was the smallest - and fastest - kid on his team. Second, we had just seen the movie The Day of the Jackal, which is about a real assassin. From that day on, he was exactly that. And though he became a really good hockey player, and developed many other skills, he was always known best for his toughness. Is he still a learner? No, he's a teenager.

Conversation:
  • Are you a knower or a learner? How so?
  • What kind of questions do you ask yourself? Are they serving you well?
  • Do you spend more time searching for answers to questions you know to ask, or searching for new questions?
  • What was the last truly new question you asked? How did you come to ask it?
  • What are the most basic assumptions you hold about how the world works? How long have you held them? Have you ever really challenged them? If you did, which to you think would hold up? Which may not? Why?
Afterwords:
"The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge." - Stephen Hawking
"The man who never alters his opinion is like standing water, and breeds reptiles of the mind." - William Blake
"It's the best possible time to be alive, when almost everything you thought you knew is wrong." - Tom Stoppard, Arcadia
"The very liveliness of a culture is determined not by how frequently explorers discover new continents of knowledge, but by how frequently they depart to seek them." - James P. Carse
"The adventure is always and everywhere a passage beyond the veil of the known into the unknown; the powers that watch at the boundary are dangerous; to deal with them is risky; yet for anyone with competence and courage the danger fades." - Joseph Campbell

4 comments:

Marshall Thurber said...

I love your post. I am writing a book and would like to use much of this. How to I best acknowledge you are source?

I laughed and laughed reading this. I'm ordering your book.

Thanks!

Marshall Thurber

Marshall Thurber said...

I love your post. I am writing a book and would like to use much of this. How do I best acknowledge you as the source?

I laughed and laughed reading this. I'm ordering your book.

Thanks!

Marshall Thurber

Jim Ericson said...

Hi Marshall. I'm glad you enjoyed the post and would be happy to have you use much or all of it in your book. You can best acknowledge me by name, blog title, and co-author of See New Now. And thanks for ordering our book.

fatamorgana said...

Hi, thanks for explaining this quote, I was not sure what he meant. Now I understand :)