You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

Times have changed and where people once went to work to learn to do a job, learning now is the job. Organisations, particularly proactive ones, look for proactive learners – these are highly prized assets for any business. So, from a learner’s perspective investing the time and having the interest to learn is a powerful tool in career development and for the organisation employing such people, investing in them through training offers great business growth potential.

Somebody once said that “The learn it all will always do better than the know it all”. But it isn’t as simple as just getting more knowledge because in careers that take many turns, where people change roles more frequently and fluidly and develop in different directions, the ability to unlearn, learn, and relearn is vital for long-term success.

We spend a huge amount of time in our day jobs, these therefore provide the most significant opportunities for learning. The trouble is that we don’t invest enough in   everyday development — we are too busy with tasks and getting the job done and this leaves little time for anything else. Putting our development down the list is a risky career strategy because it reduces our resilience and ability to respond to the changes happening around us. Here are three ways to take ownership of your learning at work:

Learn from others
The people you spend time with are a significant source of knowledge. They have know-how. Try and set a goal of one learning coffee/ tea each month from a colleague and try and learn something from them. This could be someone in a different department who could help you view the business from a different perspective. You can extend your curiosity even further by ending each conversation with the question: “Is there anyone else you think it would be useful for me to connect with?” Not only does this create the chance for new connections, but you might also benefit from a direct introduction.

Experiments help you test, learn, and adapt along the way. ‘Test and measure’ can be another way to define it. There are endless ways you can experiment at work — for example, using different tools to in video conferencing, switching some video to phone calls.

For an experiment to be effective, it needs to be a conscious choice and labelled as an opportunity for learning. Keep a log where you track the experiments you’re running and what you’re learning along the way. It’s important to remember that you should expect some failures in experiments. That is the nature of exploring the unknown.

Create a collective programme
In a much changing career, everyone’s a learner and everyone’s a teacher. As a team, consider how you can create a collective programme where you’re learning from and with each other. Some organisations effectively use skills swaps where individuals share one skill that they are happy to help other people learn. This could look like a creative problem-solver offering to share the processes and tools they find most helpful for example. Skills swaps are a good example of democratised development where everyone has something to contribute and is learning continually.

To learn effectively you must accept the fact that ‘you don’t know what you don’t know’ and open up your mind to learning and…

We unlearn when we look at a problem or opportunity through a new lens. This is more likely to happen if we’re spending time with people who challenge us and think differently than we do. The purpose of connecting with challengers is not to agree or debate but to listen and consider: What can I learn from this person?

Seek out people who have an opposite experience from you in some way. If you have 25 years of experience, find someone just starting out. People who have made different choices and have different areas of expertise than you are a good place to discover a new source of challenge. Asking people, “How would you approach this challenge?” or “What has your experience of this situation been?” is a good way to explore an alternative point of view.

Identify habits and hold backs
We all have habits that helped us get to where we are today. However, habits can create blind spots that stop us from seeing different ways of doing things or new approaches to try out.
Pick three of your habits to consciously unlearn and try out a new way of working. For example, if you habitually problem solve, try out asking for other people’s perspectives first. Testing your habits helps increase your awareness of your own actions.

Ask propelling questions
Propelling questions reset our status quo and encourage us to explore different ways of doing things. They often start with: How might we? How could I? What would happen if? These questions are designed to prevent our existing knowledge from limiting our ability to imagine new possibilities. They fast-forward us into the future and prompt positive action in the present.

To put propelling questions into practice, it’s helpful to pair up with someone else and take turns asking and answering questions. These five peer-to-peer propelling questions can get you started:

  1. Imagine it’s 2030. What three significant changes have happened in your industry?
  2. How might you divide your role between you and a robot?
  3. Which of your strengths would be most useful if your organisation doubled in size?
  4. How could you transfer your talents if your industry disappeared overnight?

If you were rebuilding this business tomorrow, what would you do differently?

Relearning is recognizing that how we apply our strengths is always changing and that our potential is always a work in progress. We need to regularly reassess our abilities and how they need to be adapted for our current context. Here are three ways to use relearning to stay nimble in the face of change.

Stretch your strengths
One of the ways to make your strengths stronger is to use them in as many different situations as possible. If you become too comfortable applying them in the same way, your development stalls. Strengths solving involves relearning how to use your strengths to offer support and solve problems outside of your day-to-day work. This could be in your networks, organisations you volunteer for, or even side projects you’re involved in.

Get fresh-eyed feedback
Looking at your skills from someone else’s perspective will help you identify opportunities to relearn. Asking for feedback can help open your eyes to your development blind spots and take back control of your growth. When your objective is to relearn, we find that presenting people with even-better questions works particularly well to provide them with the safety to share candid feedback. For example: How could I make my presentations even better? How could I make our team meetings even better? What’s one way I could do an even better job of progressing my performance?

Relearn resilience
Relearning takes resilience, and if you feel pessimistic about the progress you’re making, you might be tempted to give up. Refocusing on what’s working well can help you continue to move forward.

Try writing down three very small successes at the end of each day for two weeks. Your successes can come from your personal or professional life, and though it can be hard to spot them at first, the more you do this, the easier it gets. A very small success could include asking one person for feedback, helping a colleague prepare for a presentation, or even encouraging your toddler to eat a vegetable! At the end of two weeks, you’ll have 42 very small successes, creating the motivation and momentum to continue investing in your development, even when it feels hard.

No one is able to predict how their careers might develop or what the world of work will look like in the future. But investing in our ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn helps us increase our readiness for the opportunities that change presents and our resilience to the inevitable challenges we’ll experience along the way. As an essential start point accept that ‘you don’t know what you don’t know’.

If you are looking for more tips on improving how you and your people learn on the job, get in touch with us at or call us on 01162325231 for a free/ no obligation discussion.

The Tinderbox Team