I’ve recently been reading up on Richard Feynman and watched a number of his lectures hosted by Microsoft. Bill Gates is a big fan and at some point, he came across a great lecture series of Richard Feynman’s(click here). Thankfully he’s made them publicly available through Microsoft website.
From what I have read, the source is questionable, but Richard did not have the typical noble prize winning crazy high IQ. Which, is now a blessing for anyone who has an interest in self-development, as he had a number of famous methods employed to better understand a topic. From what I have read, he was clearly a very hard working, charismatic and disciplined individual.
One of the “techniques” he regularly employed was utilising a notebook to record all the topics, sub-topics and generally, things he didn’t know or understand. He furthered this process when learning a challenging topic, like Quantum Mechanics with his deliberate and brilliant process of simplification, he would continuously re-visit what he didn’t know about a topic and update his notebook overtime.
This is something I have been working on. Frequently I come across things I know little about but feel I should. At the moment I’m finishing up writing a business case for a Digital Customer Engagement project I’m lucky enough to be leading. Concerningly, my “I don’t know” note which I keep in Evernote, was getting larger and larger, given I need the paperwork ready soon, I’m somewhat relieved as I start to get more and more across the document. Mind you, this is mainly due to the great support I receive from the projects team I’m part of.
Through this process, I’ve started to see this large list as a good thing, almost like a marker that I can re-visit and track my understanding. A few weeks ago, if I was to sit down and detail what I don’t know about writing a business case it would have been very brief. A one-liner, simply and broadly stating “I don’t know where to begin”. Now after a little while on the topic, the areas I don’t know about are starting(emphasis on starting) to become more specific. I figure as you tackle a new topic, process, concept, theorem or in my case, a business case the more specific your “don’t knows” become, the further you’re probably progressing.
Unconscious incompetence, conscious incompetence, conscious competence, unconscious competence( Abraham Maslow – thank you, Katie). The Maslow framework springs to mind, in helping me understand the process, to some extent that I’m going through. A few days ago, I had no idea what I didn’t know. Now, I’m becoming more and more familiar with what I don’t know. If I was to offer some emotion around this point, I would feel right now, as I build a big list of what I don’t know, is the scariest point. It can become overwhelming, and usually the point wherein you have to dig your heels in and fight to make progress. My mind is constantly trying to pull me out of this discomfort, as it’s a process that highlights how much I don’t know, so why not send an email, check twitter or jump on Instagram. I can do that, I’ve done emails before and checking social media is child’s play, I know how to. As much as I try to distract myself and protect my little ego in the moments of unknowing, it’s not going to get my business case done.
I would stagger a guess that this heightened discomfort, would commonly be the point where most get discouraged and make some attempt to not go any further. This is where Jack Dorsey or Mark Zuckerberg start sitting on my shoulder, reminding me how fun it would be to just check out some social channels. If they win, it can snowball into one hell of an unproductive period, and potentially worse, make a crap of my day.
Why is mindfulness important, because it’s at this point, I’ve found, I need to be the most self-aware I can be, to fight the urge to slouch, and muster some grit to fight for some tiny bit of progress. I’m sure reading/watching the latest hilarious act some cat has done would be fun, but it won’t give me much in the long term.
The stoic philosopher Epictetus comes to mind here:
“In life our first job is this, to divide and distinguish things into two categories: externals I cannot control, but the choices I make with regard to them I do control. Where will I find good and bad? In me, in my choices.” – Epictetus