Coop’s Corner: What You Don’t Know…

An ongoing series of articles from ACI’s Director of Diversity Strategies, Bill Cooper (Coop).

No Matter How Smart You Are – You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

Many of us are very confident about what we know – and that’s cool. It’s cool as long as you also stay curious. Here’s my point: there is no way that any individual can know everything that another individual knows. As a result, there is always something new to learn from someone else. Once you’ve learned it, you then have additional information about that subject. What could be wrong with that?

The problem is us. We want to be right and we have a difficult time accepting that we don’t know something. We live in a world that is chockfull of differences; some of these differences may be seen but more often than not they are differences that are invisible. The differences may be biological, social, or organizational. They may be rooted in race, age, sexual orientation, religious preference, or military experience. Differences also exist because of the department we work in, our position in an organization, the type of office we have, or the type of vehicles we drive.

These differences create what is known as social distance – it confirms that I am like me and you are like you. This distance can be navigated if either or both of us is open to discovery. If we are curious. In the world of diversity and inclusion, the process of first understanding oneself and how we view the world and then seeking to understand the same for others is called cross cultural competency, I call it C3 (I know it looks like C-cubed but I say, “C-three” because I like it). Cross cultural competency requires that we acknowledge and then invite difference; that we honor the power that is inherent in difference and then work to leverage it to our advantage.

So the next time that you have a project assigned to you at work and you must pick a partner, why not look for someone that you don’t hang out with; someone that you know only as a person that may look at the project with a perspective that is different from yours. While this may not be your natural inclination, it will give you a chance to bring a broader set of experiences and thinking to the execution of your assignment.

By the way, the same goes for life outside of the office. We usually all KNOW where we like to go. But, in the spirit of honoring difference, when you gather with a group socially, why not ask for recommendations from someone that rarely has the chance to pick your destination? Why not suggest that you try somewhere that you have never been before? Or ask a neighbor (or even a stranger) for a recommendation?

In his book, What If?: Short Stories to Spark Diversity Dialogue, master storyteller Steve Robbins tells the story of a know-it-all professor who was shown by a student that he didn’t know what he didn’t know. In acknowledging that he could be wrong, the professor had an “Ah-Ha moment.” He was committed to learning and thus realized, that in order to continue to learn, he would have to change his way of thinking. He felt that this was especially true about things he knew little about and people with whom he had not spent much time. The professor decided from that day forward he would: Minimize his certainty and maximize his curiosity. Since I learned this from Steve some years back, I’ve tried my best to embrace this philosophy and it has served me well. Be less certain and more curious – try it!



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