“The fear of not looking good is the biggest enemy of learning”

When was the last time one of the team members around the executive table raised their hand and said: I really don’t understand?

I’ve asked this question a few times to executive teams, and usually the answer is: “rarely” or “never”.

How come? Because we only discuss things that everyone knows? That would be fatal to your business and surely cannot be.
The other possible reason is captured in the quote above: fear of not looking good.

·        If you don’t want to look ignorant - Don’t ask questions.

·        If you don’t want to look incompetent - Don’t admit mistakes or weaknesses.

·        If you don’t want to be called disruptive - Don’t make suggestions

As the saying goes, no-one was ever fired for silence…

The problem with all of this is how it sabotages learning and the discovery of new insights and solutions. Recent studies indicate that intellectual humility is great for learning. To quote a very recent study:

 “We found intellectual humility to relate to a number of other variables that might facilitate learning. These included reflective thinking, need for cognition, intellectual engagement, intellectual curiosity, intellectual openness, open-minded thinking, and an intrinsic motivation to learn for the sake of gaining knowledge,” [1]

The other problem with ‘fear of not looking good’ is it threatens psychological safety in the team. Psychological safety is one of the key factors in team performance[2].

Let’s encourage asking stupid questions, showing humility, asking for help and admitting mistakes. It will increase our learning and our collective performance. And let’s not forget the words of the Norwegian philosopher Arne Næss:

I wish people would dare to look stupid more often. We would all have more fun!” [3]

The tite above is a quote from one of Peter Senge’s books,

[1] Links between intellectual humility and acquiring knowledge, Krumrei-Mancuso, Haggard, LaBouff & Rowatt, published online: 14 Feb 2019

[2] Edmondson: The Fearless Organisation

[3] See my LinkedIn article here