You’re not as smart as you think you are.
Seriously. I mean, you’re bright and literate but you’re really not as smart as you think. Neither am I. See, the thing is, as soon as you start walking around with your smartypants on, you expose yourself to the risk of career irrelevance. The world changes. Every day. The risk of thinking you’re smart is that you think you don’t need to learn anything new or change. Once that happens, you’ve doomed yourself to irrelevance just like the amazing car phone (remember those?).
Smart people know a lot. Heck – some of them think they know everything (sort of like Lumbergh). They won’t tell you that because it’s boorish but trust me, they think it even at some subliminal level. You know it’s true. Because of that, they’re loathe to learn something new because by definition it means they don’t know everything. It’s easier to know it all by refusing to admit there’s anything new to know.
By now, Mr. or Mrs. Smartypants has stopped reading because they know the lesson or suggestion is coming and well, gee… they already know it all so there’s no point in them continuing with the rest of the post. If you’re not a smartypants, keep reading.
We’ve all heard Thomas Watson’s (Chairman of IBM) quote “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” Mmmm hmmmm. How about Bill Gates stating in 1981 “640K ought to be enough for anybody.” At least these first two guys and their companies finally came around. How about Decca Recording Co. saying “We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out.” as they rejected the Beatles in 1962?
Sure, these are extreme examples but the behavior plays itself out every day. There are those individuals who fear change or don’t take their own development seriously (for cautionary tales on these points, see the post “Talkin’ Bout My Generation“). They’re the Miltons who eventually find themselves moved to the basement cubicle and have their stapler taken away from them by Lumbergh. Trust me – that’s not a pretty existence.
The clearest manifestations of these behaviors can be found in a manager’s, organization’s, or individual’s attitudes toward training, conferences or professional development coaching. I mean, know-it-alls have no use for any of these things. They see them as boondoggles or cost savings opportunities. Those perspectives are tremendously shortsighted. I’ll confess – in past unenlightened moments, I felt those things at times too. I’ve had instants where I thought I knew it all and was embarrassingly proven wrong. I thought all conferences were boondoggles (and yes, some are and they’re TOTALLY fun! But I digress…).
I’ve had the privilege to be proven wrong several times in the past year. I learned I needed to learn a lot about true customer service when I attended the Ritz Carlton Legendary Service Executive Education Seminar. The Disney Institute taught me the concept of employing associates as listening posts as a tool for continuous improvement and higher guest satisfaction. At the Jacob Fleming Leadership Excellence conference I learned a great deal about new tools being deployed as part of action learning team programs (even though I was one of the “expert” presenters). It would have been easy for me to tune out and say “well I’m an expert speaker and I’m here to teach, not to learn” and that would have been a huge mistake.
I’ll confess I went into all these development opportunities with one assessment of my skills and left with a very different perspective on that point. What made the difference was I was open to learning. I wasn’t afraid to admit I didn’t know something. I stayed open to the possibility I’d walk away from those sessions with more than a notebook to set on a shelf. Because of this approach, I’m a better leader and executive. I’m more well-rounded and my knowledge is more current than it was before.
The key to all of this is swallowing your pride and admitting you don’t know it all. I know this is tough to do especially for those of us who think we’ve been there and done that. Wake up. You haven’t. Neither have I. Admit it. You’re ignorant. So am I. Thing is, I’m doing something about it. Are you?
– Mike Figliuolo at thoughtLEADERS, LLC