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Dragons, Opportunities and Challenges in Intersect Organizations

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Many years ago, a noted and polarizing American administrator, Donald Rumsfeld, had something important to say about knowledge. He noted that sometimes we are confident about what we know—which means that we know what we know. This is the “gold standard” for expertise. There is a second form of expertise that is not quite as good—but is still usually acceptable. This is the condition when we know that we don’t know something. When this acknowledgement of not-knowing is extending far into the future or far into space, then we can “live with it.” We don’t know what the world will look like 100 years from now or if there is a sentient life form dwelling on some other planet in the university. This is why many of us take great delight in reading science fiction. It reveals and plays out what we now don’t know.

For Rumsfeld there are two other conditions regarding knowledge—and these are particularly disconcerting and often reside at the heart of our crisis of expertise. There are things that we know but aren’t aware that we know them. This is often where one side accuses the other side of being “stupid,” or “bad faith” or at best “naïve.”

You really don’t know that this won’t work? I think you do know and just won’t admit that it is a bad idea.

In your guts, you know that that is wrong, wrong, wrong.

At other times, this condition is framed in a more reassuring way:

Just relax. It is pretty intuitive.

I wouldn’t worry. You will find that this is pretty much like what you have already been doing.

Sometimes, this condition is acknowledged in a very inspirational manner:

Just turn to (rely on) your intuition (your imagination, your inner wisdom) and it will show you the truth.

Perhaps the best known of these don’t-know-that-you-know inspirational statements comes from Star-Wars. It is all about trusting “the force.” One of the famous quotes from a Star War movie comes from Maz Kanata (one of its lesser-known characters: “Close your eyes. Feel it. The light…it’s always been there. It will guide you.”

Regardless of whether this condition is noted in an accusatory or inspirational manner, it implies that expertise is lacking. How can someone be an “expert” if they are unaware of the knowledge (or skill or wisdom) that they already possess. They need a mentor, like Yoda, to bring their knowledge to the fore and make it accessible to this newly minted “expert.”

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