Remember How It Felt Not To Know?

I watched his eyes glaze over as the words drooled out of my mouth. If I hadn’t been busy thinking about other things while I spoke, I would have been bored too. My words were on auto-pilot. I was telling him about some digital marketing, SEO package he should buy from me so his business would get more algorithmic foreplay from Google. I said all the right things at the right time in the right tone. Blah, Blah, Blah. He didn’t understand. Neither one of us cared.

Tens years ago I had a telemarketing job. After the first year, I had memorized the script and taken so many phone calls that I could recite the information while reading the newspaper. I’d answer questions and overcome objections without losing my place in the sports section. I still made sales. But never as many as I made in the first year while I was learning and still excited.

“As our island of knowledge grows, so does the shore of our ignorance.” Physicist John Wheeler.

If you had a choice to learn a foreign language from a native speaker — someone that knows all the ins-and-outs of the dialect, conversational context, and slang terms within the culture — or someone who just recently became “fluent” and might still be unfamiliar with certain phrases and words, who would you choose?

It may be counter-intuitive, but your best bet would the latter. The person that is, compared to the native speaker, still new to the language.

The native speaker just knows the language. They always have. They can’t remember a time they didn’t. On the other hand, the person still new to the language just went through the same challenges you’ll be facing. They can still remember what it felt like not to know.

It’s important to remember that knowledge has the potential to make us unrelatable if we forget how it felt to once to be ignorant.

After years of experience doing something — building houses, writing code, playing jazz standards — our muscle memory disconnects us from our novice brain. We’ve often explored certain theories in our minds for so long, we think, “How could anyone NOT understand this?”

Once the cement has dried on our understanding and we have a full grasp on concepts and techniques, it’s much harder to remember that original “Ah Ha” moment. The moment it all came together.

We’ve all heard that one of the most effective ways to learn something is by teaching it to someone else. Try explaining something you only semi-understand and you’ll find the gaps in your understanding fast.

What many people overlook, is that sometimes it’s best to learn from someone only a few steps ahead. You don’t always need an expert to show you the ropes. Find a teacher that still has the original spark of curiosity and fresh excitement of learning something new. That feeling is contagious. And when you know the teacher is only a few steps ahead, learning something new becomes less intimidating.

But I’m already an expert in everything…

Well, next time you train someone or try to sell a product, or explain an idea, put yourself back in that place of not knowing. Take apart the pieces of the puzzle and reexamine.

Not only will you be more effective as a teacher, or a telemarketer, you’ll have the chance to reexamine what you already know with a clean slate. Revisit what it was that first drew you to the subject, back when it was still a mystery.

It’s the spirit of curiosity that captives others and encourages deep understanding. Don’t forget what is it was like not to know.