Not Knowing, The Art of Turning Uncertainty into Opportunity Book Review
Authors: Steven D’Souza and Diana Renner
Book Review by: Jan Brown
Key points and their meaning:
• Avoiding the unknown or admitting that we don’t know can prevent us from discovering, experimenting, learning, and exploring new ideas and/or thoughts.
• I have always considered ‘not knowing’ or saying ‘I don’t know’ as an incompetence, a negative connotation. The authors reframe it into a positive way of being which allows us to be open to new knowledge and new perspectives.
• When we move into the space of ‘not knowing’, we can learn to be silent and be present for one another.
• In the space of the unknown, we are letting go of trying to control the conversation but rather let it unfold.
Application to life coaching:
I think not being able to rely on what we know is one of the most challenging skills of life coaching. Instinctively we want to help the client, advise the client, and solve the problem for the client. When our clients move into the unknown and we hold the space for them to do so, that’s where they discover possibilities, try new things, think differently, and allow ideas to emerge that might not have otherwise done so.
Favorite passages and what made it your favorite passage:
• “Purpose and value lie at the centre of our being. They give our lives meaning; they give us joy. In the depth of the unknown, clear values and purpose may be the only things that we can hold onto. They can be the compasses that help us orient and move forward even if we are unsure of the destination”. Over the past year, I have spent a great deal of time re-discovering myself and evaluating my purpose in life. With every twist and turn on this journey, I have stopped to ask myself: ‘Does this way forward align with my values?’
• “Change always involves loss. We do everything we possibly can to avoid loss, even if it means achieving something we’ve always dreamed of. Not Knowing becomes even more frightening at the edge because we don’t know what we are about to step into and what we’re leaving behind.” I have never thought about change as a loss. When I think about the ‘Stages of Change’ model, it makes sense that we need to leave something behind to in order to move forward and that’s why I think it’s critically important to understand where my client is so that I can ask the right questions.
• “We follow people because of what they know, not because of what they don’t know. We engage consultants because they know something that we don’t”.
The first sentence struck me when I think about our common practice on social media to ‘follow’ or ‘like’ others’ thought leadership or knowledge. I’m wondering what would happen if we followed people for what they don’t know instead of what they know. The second sentence resonated with me because I have been challenged recently a few times by potential clients who are seeking a business consultant, advisor, business manager, even project manager, not a coach. It’s a reminder to me of the importance and clarity we need to make around what a life coach is and is not since there are so many varying definitions associated with the coaching industry.
• “When we are full of our own thoughts, we have no ability to take on new learning and respond to reality as it presents itself in the actual moment. It is not about getting rid of our experience and wisdom, but rather not letting it get in the way of seeing things from a fresh perspective.”
This phrase reminds me of the interference that gets in the way sometimes when we are coaching. Our minds wander in different directions wanting the conversation to go in our direction, not the path the client wants to explore.
• “Developing a practice of questioning, rather than answering, means focusing on the question mark, not the meaning of the words. This allows us to create an openness to the present moment, letting go of our need for knowledge and security.”
We all want to know the answers to the topics or ideas that we are wrestling with. I like this visual of the question mark because it reminds me that it’s okay to be in the space of the unknown.
How will I apply the key messages in this book within my coaching? Since reading this book, I have already started being cognizant of having a “don’t know mindset” in life and in coaching. The authors also refer to a “beginner’s mind” which I had heard of in the practice of meditation or zen but not in this context. I’m going to apply the “beginner’s mind” by not letting my preconceived ideas or judgements get in the way of the coaching conversation. Even in day-to-day conversations, I’ve noticed that when I stop listening to myself, the voice in my head, then I become fully engaged, listening to what is being said with an open mind.