Not-knowing discussion #1: Introducing not-knowing (summary)

29/1/2023 ☼ not-knowingiiiisummary

This is a summary of the first session in the InterIntellect series on not-knowing, which happened on 19 Jan 2023, 2000-2200 CET.

All session summaries.

The reading for this first session was an introduction to not-knowing.

We spent much more of the first session on introductions than I expected, because the group was a lot bigger than I thought it would be. The frames in which people were interested in not-knowing surprised me (which I suppose should not be surprising). I’ve been thinking about uncertainty and not-knowing professionally” for more than a decade, so my approach to it is as a kind of general abstracted theory which gets applied concretely in different ways depending on the context. But context-specificity is a thing and I will address it somehow.

My main takeaways:

  1. Some people are confronting not-knowing and don’t know what to do about it. They want frameworks for thinking about not-knowing and tools for dealing personally with not-knowing. This group seems to be approaching this in their personal capacities, even if the not-knowing is related to work.
  2. Other people say they are comfortable with not-knowing. What they want are ways to talk to others about not-knowing and tools for helping others understand and deal with not-knowing. This second group seems to be approaching this in their professional capacities, as consultants, R&D managers, and such.
  3. Some people seem to interpret dealing” with not-knowing as getting rid” of it or suppressing” it. Is this a hangover from how we’re conditioned to think about dealing with risk — which is inevitably by managing it away in expectation with insurance, hedging, and other stuff like that? My view is you can’t get rid of not-knowing. Anyway, even risk, which is a type of not-knowing, can’t actually be eliminated. It can only be dealt with in expectation and anticipated consequence. For me, dealing with uncertainty means learning how to live with it and even, as a superuser, how to make use of it to flourish. Maybe a better verb is needed here?
  4. I don’t think I made it clear that there are different types of not-knowing, and that risk is one of those types. Possibly no one cares about these seemingly abstract distinctions of type — might need to make it clearer why the type of not-knowing affects how it can be dealt with.

Topics that came up

  1. Dealing with fear/anxiety/anger arising from not-knowing.
  2. Habits/routines/processes that help with managing not-knowing.
  3. Dealing with not-knowing while in a transition phase.
  4. How to invest resources (not just money) when the future is not-known.
  5. How to make use of not-knowing strategically.
  6. How to navigate not-knowing as a business operator.
  7. New frameworks/non-obvious approaches for thinking about situations of not-knowing. Includes storytelling and other narrative approaches.
  8. How to avoid pretending that we know more than we actually do. This includes avoiding stuff like checkbox syndrome” and addiction to certainty.”
  9. How to make embracing not-knowing more inclusive.
  10. How to persuade others above, below, and at your own level to embrace not knowing.
  11. How to have or facilitate conversations about not-knowing.
  12. The value of preserving not-knowing (whether personally or professionally). Includes ignorance” and beginner/child mind.”