The key to success in the networked age? Just look around and be humbled

Curiosity killed the cat (Credits - Stuff by Cher)

Curiosity killed the cat (Credits – Stuff by Cher)

(Another older post that I just finalise here before I get on with new stuff based on your feedback)

When I was a child, one of the sayings that finger-wagging adults liked to throw at me and fellow little people was that ‘la curiosité est un vilain défaut’ – Curiosity killed the cat.

How much we have moved on from that age when staying where we are was the desired end state. A neverending never changing state. Now the only thing that never changes is change itself, though even that is not true because the pace of change is increasing – and so is our need to connect to others, with curiosity, and a little something else, of great importance.


As modern knowledge workers, we have to connect the dots, we have to find others, build trust with them, and do ‘stuff’ together. If ‘In complex initiatives, expert predictions of outcomes are barely better than flipping a coin‘, we must harness collective intelligence. And that will not happen with alpha male chest-beating behaviour but with humility, the other godmother of learning (remember the happy families of engagement?) next to curiosity.

Being humble doesn’t mean we don’t know where we’re headed and think everyone else does stuff better than us or better stuff than us; it just means that we recognise we are trying to do something (or some things) without full certainty, and are open enough to hear what others do in relation, and occasionally pick up useful elements from their approach.

The path to wisdom is paved with effectiveness, focus, humility and empathy and just so we learn by being intently open to any signal that may improve our own understanding and thought-processing, set of practices and attitude. Any opportunity is good to power up another segment of the collective brain grid, the common energy grid of intent, purpose and calling (something I’ve written about before).

We can keep our criticism about, we should question our education and educate our questions but this is no longer the time to be cocky, know-it-all and ‘go it alone’. We need specialists in this complex world, but only combined with other talents.

Humility, being ‘in over our head’ is what keeps us sharp and connected. It’s a non-negotiable in the networked, agile, constant learning age, unless you’re the best in the world at what you do. And even then, arguably…

Want some spicy questions, Nadia?

  • How come leadership still seems overwhelmingly attracted to alpha-male, know-it-all styles?
  • Is humility enough to be a good modern knowledge worker? What other traits of personality allow us to be agile, ever-learning, increasingly effective?
  • If humility was considered to be assessed (or even measured) in an organisation – for broad effectiveness – how would we do so to qualify it?

I’m all ears…

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Reinventing the wheel: it’s ok… kind of…

Do we really know all the sizes and shades of the wheel? (Credits: Cobalt123 / FlickR)

Do we really know all the sizes and shades of the wheel? (Credits: Cobalt123 / FlickR)

For a long time, one of the mainstay arguments in favour of knowledge management has been that it helps avoid reinventing the wheel: We have to learn from others before us and not waste time going around in circles… to develop yet another circle: the wheel.

Let’s really look into this for a second or two though… and imagine a group of people reinventing the wheel…

What really bothers us here?

  • The fact that they are wasting resources (time, money, capacity) into something that already exists elsewhere – if we were sitting on that budget that would bother us even more?
  • The fact that they are bothering us with something that existed way before they found out and had their epiphany?
  • In both situations, the fact that they are not learning, that they haven’t adopted the good practice of scanning what is available out there before they jumped to action perhaps?

Now, let’s consider also what might be the reasons or motivations for reinventing the wheel:

“I didn’t know about all of this, I just thought it was new” No learning, no looking around, indeed this is daft – but it might also be a great opportunity to learn from the past and to learn how to learn? That is, if we provide that crucial feedback to these people who did not look around. Information gets quickly submerged – we need to unearth the gems buried in the information soils every now and then
“But this bit about it is totally new!” A new insight has come up about the wheel. Perhaps we think we know everything about the wheel, but then again there are these ‘phoenixes’ that keep coming back in conversations, each time in a different avatar. In KM, ‘what is knowledge (management)‘ and ‘Assessing knowledge management‘ are two of these phoenixes. Let’s keep open-minded or we might miss out on crucial insights from these reincarnations of old topics
“I want to give this a try (anyhow)” People might know that they are reinventing the wheel but it is part of their learning process. Much like: a child can be told that the oven is hot and they should not touch it, they will want to experience this by themselves. We all need to reinvent our wheels to go beyond the wheel.
This case can also relate to the quest of immortality… leaving a name behind might justify (in our eyes) going on a beaten track again to find THE way to make this better. That is human behaviour and though it can be irritating, it might again unearth new ideas and insights…
“What we’re doing here is not exactly the same though” Sometimes, at first sight there is no difference, no novelty in an initiative and it really looks like reinventing the wheel, but in fact it is adapting the wheel – and that is totally justified. Innovation emerges when old ideas mix with new opportunities too…
“Our donor asked us to re-invent this wheel” Either extremely daft on the part of the donor, or extremely smart: a great opportunity to think outside the box, erm, aside the wheel?

So all in all, reinventing the wheel is just one of the ways of failing fast and improving quickly – and sometimes it’s actually about adapting, not reinventing the wheel… At any rate it offers a wonderful opportunity to learn and/or to learn how to learn, and that is priceless.

This is why, in a community of practice, with new people coming in continually, there is sometimes a fatigue from older members to hear (again) about the same topics or see the same approaches. But listen carefully savvy folks, a butterfly of an idea there might create a creative tsunami elsewhere… Keep interested and curious, for we don’t know everything about the wheel(s) just yet…

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