A tweet from Stephen Downes that's been hanging in my head for a few weeks:
This may be the biggest challenge to ongoing innovation. Most humans are not good at feeling perpetually incompetent. It is frighening and a blow to our egos to think that we may not have a firm grip on our work.
We tend to fight situations that make us feel like we don't know what we're doing. If we feel like we're floating on a sea of uncertainty and confusion, we do everything we can to return to the dry land of our familiar skill sets.
But if we are to be innovative, we must learn to embrace those feelings of incompetence. We have to learn to reframe them as opportunities for learning and growth.
We also have to change what we regard as "competencies." The skills we need to fully engage in continuous innovation are meta-skills, not necesarily grounded in the kind of narrow technical skills we've come to see as expressing our competence at work.
Our competencies have to be larger than our current job or industry. Innovation comes from having a larger vision for what we do, from heterogeneity and cross pollination.
To thrive in a world of uncertainty and continuous innovation, we need to:
- Embrace learning in all its forms, including learning from mistakes. Becoming a better learner should be our major focus. It is the one competency we can count on in a constantly changing world.
- Fight homophily and expose ourselves to a broad array of ideas, people and strategies.
I'm still learning to be comfortable with incompetence. It's an ongoing challenge to put myself out there and to say "I'm not sure" or "I don't know." The perfectionist in me can really put up a fight.
But I've come to believe that when it comes to learning, growth and career development, those may be very important words for me to say. Each time I utter them, I'm forced to embrace yet again that I'm in uncharted territory. And that's where all the discoveries are made.
Sign up for my newsletter! You'll get priority registration for events, discounts and other special "Members Only" stuff. And if you sign up now, you'll also get 15 days of activities to help you reflect on 2011 and plan for 2012.