I am an inexpert

I have learned/am learning that relinquishing the need to know (the answer?) is in fact creating something more in me.  Releasing me, unleashing me.

I’ve been to a lot of conferences, and seen a lot of speakers; some compelling, some entertaining, some dull, many with an excitement of busy slides.  I’ve seen many with a product to sell, more than a few with an ego, and a beautiful minority who have something important to share.   They have a message from the heart;  I notice that the medium of the powerpoint and the talk somehow leads to the human heart energy becoming diluted into something tepid and unconnected.   All in service of the requirements of expert.

Whatever the message, I’m always fascinated at how little of the audience input speakers want.  Occasionally a question is asked; nearly always the thinking is already done.  (How about if the speaker did their thinking with the audience – wouldn’t that be wonderful).

I live my work life as an OD consultant and I think OD is essentially a paradoxical place (perhaps why it can be hard to understand in a system which needs to make things easy – but life ain’t easy).  I need to both know – data, theories, methods, techniques, myself, oh man, myself  and  – to not know.  I can’t know what has happened before, who has something to say, what is needed, what people think, what can happen next, what questions people want answered, and what to do next – we create that together.  It’s a glorious exploration of potential and – me not knowing I find invites others to really think for themselves.  And then the magic happens.

When the call came for speakers for Inexpert2018  – a conference all about not knowing; it seemed perhaps a place where I could maybe have something to contribute. Or where I wanted to say something.  Where I could enjoy not knowing.

I did and you can see it here. All of it, not just mine.

As a regular Edinburgh Fringe festival goer; Inexpert2018 transported me into that magical space of anticipating what the next show will actually be about, regardless of it’s title.   For those who haven’t been to the Fringe; it’s not all comedy gigs, it’s that and lots of performance art in multiple guises.  I remember going to see “Moths ate my Dr Who Scarf”  and walking into to TARDIS take off sounds.  What fun I thought then – later – leaving in tears after a beautiful and unexpected exposition of the letting go of grief.

Inexpert2018 was like a festival of not knowing; such diversity of offerings.   I loved all of them, including mine where actually I finally got some insight about the calculus from the audience.  The audience were as vital as the speakers.  There was no division; a great sense of connectness.  That is liberating – setting our minds free to go where they need to, to ask and to play.

Each person brought something quite different into the room.  None of it would have worked without us all being part of it.  Silence connecting us, poetry touching us, stories moving us, inquiries getting us thinking.

Reflecting on the experience, I felt sadness at the education system and my own experience of having my questions denied; I have thought a lot about conference formats over the years and why we want to pay for someone to do our thinking for us, and I have thought about what value we place on knowledge and status over learning and kindness.  My overriding sense from Inexpert2018 is that it was kind; it was explicitly a place where experimentation, not knowing, failing, falling, forgetting and flailing were part of the process.

Kindness.  That is all.



2 thoughts on “I am an inexpert

  1. Thank you, Meg. I am conscious that any response here is going to be shaped by a certain amount of confirmation bias. But does that matter when someone else has just articulated what you think?

    Your argument reminds me of David Weinberger’s commencement address at Simmons College a few years ago. It was published as ‘In over our heads’ (https://medium.com/@dweinberger/in-over-our-heads-5ee8067bdac7) and, in part, tackled the issue of imposter syndrome. Something that just about anyone with a degree of self-awareness will experience, some of us all of the time.

    Shyness aside, one of the reasons I reject most invitations to speak at events is that I have no interest in doing something pre-prepared. The interview and Q&A format, on the other hand, is so enjoyable. Not least because you are dealing with the unexpected and learning in the moment. As in any educational experience, the learning needs to be two-way. Otherwise, why bother?

    On not knowing, the thesis that physicist Marcelo Gleiser presents in his books The Island of Knowledge and The Simple Beauty of the Unexpected (http://marcelogleiser.com/all-books/) is compelling. In a nutshell, it is the notion that the more we know, the less we know. If knowledge is an island that grows through accumulation, then so does its border with the sea of not-knowing. With the passage of time, expertise will lose its relevance and atrophy; old knowledge will be disproven and supplanted. That demands humility, acceptance, curiosity, uncertainty. Two other recommended reads on the topic are Steven D’Souza’s Not Knowing (https://lidpublishing.com/book/not-knowing/) and Jamie Holmes’s Nonsense: The Power of Not Knowing (http://jamieholmesbooks.com/).

    1. Too hasty in submitting. That should read ‘Steven D’Souza and Diana Renner’s Not Knowing’. Their more recent book Not Doing adds a new perspective to their ideas.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s