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AUTHORITY & CURIOSITY

April 18th, 2020

 

Everyone has at least one area, or an instance when someone else sees them as the authority.  The go-to person, the one who knows how things work, what should be done, how it should go.  It’s the subject that causes us to perk up with delight when someone asks that first question:

 

Hey, how would you do this ?

 

The questions that follow reveal everything about the status of our knowledge.  Not just in terms of what we actually know, but also how we handle what we don’t know.

 

If further questions on the part of a student touch on details that we have no idea about, how do we react?

 

A default reaction for many is to grow a bit annoyed or frustrated.  The reasoning is, I’ve done this before, stop slowing it down by asking questions and just let me show you.  The brain has a remarkable ability to make up unrelated reasons for the things we do and the things we feel.  There are many lovely experiments regarding split-brain patients that show the truth of this.  We must ask if the annoyance and frustration with a student is really because it’s impeding the learning – which sounds patently ridiculous when phrased that way, or is it due to an insecurity?  Does it highlight the possibility that we may not be as much of an expert as we initially thought?

 

How best to react to such an idea?

 

Knowledge is static, but the way we generate or discover knowledge is dynamic.  It is a process, just as the act of teaching someone what we know is not a static exchange but a dynamic interplay. 

 

Weaknesses in our own domain knowledge is an opportunity, not just to learn more about our own domain, but more importantly to demonstrate the process of how we negotiate unknowns in our domain.  This meta-knowledge is perhaps more important than any fact we might share.  Behind all domain knowledge is a set of heuristics often specific to that domain that enable someone to negotiate unknowns.

 

For example, coders use debugging tools that are built into browsers in order to negotiate unknowns related to a website they are building.  People who don’t know a lick of code are often oblivious to this fact while using the very same browsers.  These debugging tools come with their own rule sets, and heuristics of use for figuring out an unknown.

 

An experienced woodworker, likewise, has learned or figured out an entire host of ‘tricks’ for speeding up the work while remaining precise and accurate.

 

Such heuristics and tools are often the product of curiosity burrowing into a domain.  Curiosity creates its own tools for advancement.

 

But what happens when we are confronted with the curiosity of someone totally new to the field?  What happens when they quickly ask a question we’ve never considered before?

 

Do we react with the first emotion that points at our own lack of perfection?

 

Or do we use the instance as an opportunity to share the true wealth of our authority on the subject? 

 

Are we willing to share the way we deal with vulnerability?

 

Do we let someone in on the personal development we’ve been on and reveal the ways we handle adventure into the unknown?


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Podcast Ep. 734: Authority & Curiosity

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