Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Why Don't You Know?

I enjoy Seth Godin's blog, somewhat because of the Twitter-like brevity of the posts, but more because of the power in the message. One recent post almost echoed the words of a former professor. In a post entitled The Curious Imperative, Godin opens with the following statement:

"Now that information is ubiquitous, the obligation changes. It's no longer okay to not know."

Sixteen years ago, I was working on my dissertation. Dr. Gene Golanda was one of two chairs on my dissertation committee, and he was a master of asking the question that would cause one to examine even a routine problem in a unique way. During one conversation related to my dissertation topic, he asked me a question for which I had no answer, and frankly one I had never contemplated.

All of my training to that point had said to me that when you don't know the answer, you simply say you don't know. Then. you get busy finding out. I confidently followed that plan, admitting I did not know the answer, feeling proud of myself for not trying to bluff my way through. The response was one I will never forget:

"Why don't you know?" he said.

He had a point. This teacher had also just ratcheted up the standards. Finding an answer was no longer good enough. Solving the problem once it presented itself was no longer good enough. At this level, the expectation became to find answers to questions yet to be asked and solve problems before they occur.

I learn something new every single day, and hopefully you do too. Much of what I learn comes through professional reading, followed by thinking, followed by Google searches to gather the bits of information needed to complete the puzzle.

For each of us, there is that niche in which we long to become expert. The information we need to get there has never been easier to find. Not knowing is not good enough. Not adding our own contributions to that body of knowledge is not good enough. A creative mind that goes beyond the obvious, the skills to search the body of literature available on the Internet, and the discipline to push the envelope every day...now that's not only good enough, but could be enough to change the world.

Yes, I get still get those questions to which I have to say, "I don't know." And when I do, I hear that little voice from 16 years ago saying, "Why don't you know?"

Discovery exists in seeing what everyone else has seen and thinking what nobody else has thought. —Albert Szent-Gyorgyi
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