I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what I don’t know. That’s probably a natural reaction to spending three weeks in a country where I don’t speak the language, but still. The list just starts at Italian and goes on from there. It is not a short list, obviously.
Not knowing is scary. Especially when your whole industry is literally billed as part of the “knowledge economy.” Part what I do every day as a community manager is actually referred to as knowledge management, so how can I just not know so many things?
For me, knowledge has always been deeply connected with independence. If you don’t know something, don’t have the answer, or can’t do something yourself, well, that makes you dependent on someone else for help.
This is obvious, I know. That’s basically the underlying tenet of human society, right? We need each other.
Sometimes though, that’s still weirdly hard to accept.
Back in January, I wrote about how we’ve got to support our colleagues to push the web forward. Over the last few months, I’ve been thinking on that story of Chris Hadfield and his colleague who wanted to learn how to pilot the Soyuz. Earlier this year, I had focused on how remarkable it was that Hadfield said, “Sure, let me teach you,” even though it meant more work and longer hours for himself.
These days, I’m almost more impressed with his colleague, Tom Mashburn, because he asked for help.
Most of us, in theory, like sharing what we know. It’s easy to picture ourselves as Hadfield in that story, right? Magnanimously putting in the time to help our colleagues learn new skills? Sure thing.
Talking about what we don’t know is harder, though. And often, asking for help is the hardest thing of all.
It’s easy to feel like not knowing is failing. For probably the entirety of your education, that was literally the truth. But now? As Kristina Halvorson reminded us earlier this year, “when it comes to the great wide world of digital, we are all making it up as we go.”
It’s easy to get isolated in our not-knowing-ness (it’s fine, just add “words” to the list of things I don’t know), to assume that everyone else must have the answers, must have already figured this out. Sometimes that’s true. More often than not though, we’re all grappling with the same questions.
The biggest thing I learned at the first conference I attended was that everyone was struggling with the same things. It really was like a weight lifting up off my shoulders. I didn’t have to know! Nobody knew!
It was glorious, and also terrifying. I’d been going along thinking there were answers out there and I just had to find them, but then I learned there was no silver bullet, and no answers just lying around, waiting to be discovered.
That’s part of the fun though. It’s part of why we do this work. We get to make the answers together.
But we can’t get there if we don’t talk about what we don’t know and ask for help when we need it. It’s not that some of us get to be Chris Hadfield, sharing our wisdom with Tom Mashburn and making the web better for everyone. To move the web forward, we all have to be both.
Share what you know, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.