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The power of not knowing

May 22, 2015 - What we're reading -

Changing homes, changing partners, changing jobs, changing clients, changing projects… the list goes on. Life would be dull if it wasn’t in a constant state of flux. But with change comes the problem of not knowing.

Not knowing something, or how things will turn out, can be scary. But not knowing can also be a good thing.

I picked up Steven D’Souza and Diana Renner’s book Not Knowing one afternoon in a bookshop just after I’d made a major, life-changing decision myself. Feeling a little nervous about the outcome of the decision I’d made, and somewhat attracted to the book’s bright yellow cover, I purchased what promised the art of turning uncertainty into opportunity.

The book is divided into three sections. The first part focuses on the ‘Dangers of Knowledge’ – the risk of holding on to information and relying on so-called experts and leaders to deepen our understanding or knowledge. It also touches on the illusion of control, a tendency for humans to often think this ensures personal control in situations where there is none.

Part two of the book focuses on ‘The Edge’ – that fearful place where you feel like you’re at the edge of your knowledge. It’s dark and scary but it’s also full of possibilities if you can embrace it, according to the authors.

The final section of the book focuses on traits associated with ‘negative capabilities’, a term described by the poet Keats when he considered a person to be “capable of being in uncertainties. Mysteries, doubts, without irritable reaching after fact and reason.”

Not Knowing isn’t a ‘how to’ guide, instead it’s filled with diverse and inspirational stories from the arts, sciences, psychotherapy and entrepreneurship where not knowing was critical in solving complex problems. The reader is constantly transported to different worlds; whether it’s prohibition-era USA, on top of a mountain with an explorer, or a company where the new CEO needs to save millions of dollars. The authors dip in and out of different situations that keep the pace fast and interesting. Along with pages between chapters peppered with beautiful illustrations and inspiring quotes, the authors themselves lend their personal experiences of not knowing, to make this a real page-turner.

There’s a great chapter about learning from the ‘inhabitants of the unknown’, which focuses on the importance of keeping our minds open and exploring other people’s diverse experiences and perspectives. This cross-disciplinary thinking and experimenting with the unknown to create something unique and amazing echoes our own ethos for the Just//works offering.

For the more cynical among you, you may be thinking… it’s just a book about being positive. But there’s a difference between not knowing and not knowing. The former is going with the flow, seeing what happens and surviving the journey. The latter is about having that curious and exploratory mindset while you’re on the journey, to make it more exciting, interesting and rewarding – the book encourages you to develop that perspective for your career, relationships, etc.

My main take away? There’s a unique solution to every problem; don’t always rely on what you already know to solve problems, and stay curious about the world around you.

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