I’ve had a number of opportunities to think about knowledge and the accumulation of expertise in the past week. Ignoring the highly VUCA world we live in (I love that expression ‘volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous’. I’ve described myself at various times professionally – and sometimes unprofessionally – as ‘a complexity vortex’. It’s very pleasing to know that there is a Harvard Business Review-approved term for it. And obviously that it is an acronym that you have to look up every time you use it because it’s easier to use VUCA as a throwaway term that will meet at least one condition in any particular environment), pretty much every area of my life. (And of course what I really want to do now is look up how to add footnotes to blocks in this editor, because in the unlikely event anyone reads this, then my poor reader is very quickly going to lose whatever thread I had to begin with. VUCA blogging.)
Work has been challenging. I’m motivated by making things better – formally speaking that’s to improve capabilities through leveraging the work of others – be that ideas, models or tools. I spend a lot of time seeing people build triangular wheels. I dare say I’ve built my fair share too. But it’s extra hard at the moment. It’s hard when you see things others don’t – whether these are dragons, unicorns, or numbers. Anyway, not the time or the place.
I’m studying for an MSc. This is largely to try and remove some lifelong scars from my undergraduate days. It shouldn’t really matter what badges you have, but for me, for now, it does – which is tedious as the impacts of studying are nearly all negative. Results so far are… mixed. The process is interesting, but the material is… well… academic. I’m used to explaining things, or writing proposals, or provocations. I’m used to critiquing the competition (or more often, ‘us’). I’m not used to thinking about what other people’s viewpoints would make of the same material. I’m used to applying that viewpoint, but not simply for the sake of doing it. Not very purposeful.
I haven’t historically posted about anything other than fiction or poetry on this blog (if I’ve posted anything), but I’ve just joined an artist’s book group run by a keen member of the Society of Bookbinders and that was a schooling in itself. While I was showing some feeble attempts at non-traditional structures and wittering on about not having a voice, a couple of much more established artists talked in depth about their motivation, rationale, execution and response. I think I’m a bit better at appreciating experience nowadays but it was hard not to feel embarrassed.
Which leads on to my latest adventure in impostor syndrome, as a team leader for a girls’ football team. One of the founding principles of this club is to resist coaching as much as possible and let the girls work things out for themselves. And it’s a fascinating process to watch and be part of – I mean it’s not as if they are not coached, but there’s none of the micro-management that I’m used to from my own football days (or indeed, that any armchair viewer/season ticket holder will feel entitled to do). And I think part of this philosophy is a much healthier approach to managing shame.
There should be no shame in not knowing. There should only be shame in a lack of desire to learn, to grow. I fully agree with the club that we criticise effort not ability. Yet most of my life (this is a blog, it’s meant to be narcissistic) I have felt deep shame at getting things wrong, or more destructively – for the potential of getting something wrong. I’ve been known to leave a room when other people do something stupid on a television programme I’m watching. It’s a visceral reaction which I find very difficult to control. I guess Steve Peters would have something to say about my perception of self and the troop. But there are definitely aspects of my psyche that use shame as a stimulus – I wonder if that’s an instinctive thing or not. For example, I will make ‘better’ (or at least more conscious) art for the next meeting of the artists’ book group.
It’s also ironic that I spend at least part of my professional life ’embarrassing’ myself. Taking chances. Being wrong. Learning, trying, failing. More often than not I’m actually ‘taking’ that shame for someone else. My job is to hand over once things are (more) certain – I remove or control some VUCA. But this is not a behaviour I’m used to applying in personal, artistic or social contexts. Is that simply competence? Or practice? Or necessity?
Hmm. Been thinking about that last bit. I’m happy to be the clown, to volunteer when others don’t / won’t. I’m often deeply embarrassed about both types of behaviour. Again I guess it’s a chimp management thing – and it’s definitely an overthinking thing.
Speaking of overthinking, it’s time to get on with the day, and put on my clown suit.