“The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance – it is the illusion of knowledge.” – Daniel J Boorstin
From time to time when we run a training event, a coaching discussion or a group coaching session, we will hear someone say “I know this already”, “I’ve covered it previously in my career”, “I’ve done a lot of this before” or any number of variations on this theme. As soon as we hear such statements, there are small alarm bells going off in our heads.
These alarm bells come from years of experience in learning environments – 9 times out of 10 when we hear these comments we know that this person might just be the participant who needs the content/learning the most.
Really? Yes, really. The bells are picking up on two elements of concern:
- There might be a hidden reason for making such a statement
- Their mind-set might be limiting their opportunities
Firstly, let’s look at possible reasons that people say “I know it already”. We have no doubt that people who make these comments have indeed participated in training or workshops on the topic at hand, yet they usually don’t tell us this just so we know – there’s almost always an underlying, sometimes unconscious reason for them telling us. Some possible deeper reasons might include one or more of the following.
- believe that they do know all of the detail and there is nothing more they need to know
- truly believe they are applying these skills already
- want to be acknowledged for their experience
- think we should ask them to share in the session – for the group’s benefit
- have heard it before and don’t want to sit through it again
- have too much work on and would love to get out of the session
- don’t like learning in a ‘classroom’ environment
- are actually a bit insecure about their skills and don’t want to be put in a position where they may not be the expert
- are an experienced manager/employee and don’t want others to think they need to learn more (see also point above)
- have had a bad experience at a previous learning event and are now wary of all trainers, facilitators and coaches
Some of the reasons above may have sounded very valid to you. So why do those alarm bells go off for us then? It’s because we are concerned that their perspective may be limiting their full potential.
Our concern comes from the following:
- Knowing and doing are two very different things: people who say they know it already might know the theory, yet in reality they might not be putting it into practice
- Openness to learning is a core leadership attribute: great leaders are always curious, always learning; even if they are knowledgeable, they know the benefit of refreshing their skills or hearing other people’s perspectives
- Great leaders lead by example: attending a learning event has a secondary purpose of demonstrating to those you lead, collaborate with or manage that you see investing in development as important
- Fear is self-limiting: fears of not getting it ‘right’ and of not being the expert can hold you back from beneficial growth and development. Successful people do not let such fears limit them – they know that facing your fears could be the best pathway to ongoing success
- Refreshing is maintaining: if you really believe you will not learn anything new, then is there really any harm in refreshing on what you know to maintain your level of ability? Refreshing is maintaining
Happy ongoing learning!
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