Being happy with Not-Knowing

Posted by  Andrew Rixon —February 22, 2006
Filed in Communication, News

Not knowingIf you’re wondering where I’ve been, for the last 2 days at least (the rest is a whole other story), I’ve been at the Australian Open Space on Open Space or OSonOSinOz for short. It was great!

A gem which really stood out in my mind was a great discussion which was hosted by Jess Dart titled “Exploring the underpinning philosophy of open space”. In particular Jess was very curious about the epistemology of OS, which in my crude translation is simply about “knowing about knowing”. Now yes, this does seem an esoteric topic and yes you may be wondering what possible practical application this may have, and yes we did ask “does it matter?”. The gem which emerged from this was a classic statement about being happy with not-knowing.

Enter stage left, Greg Jenkins, with a great diagram for us on knowing and not-knowing. In life, work or otherwise, we find ourselves travelling the spiral between ‘the known’ and ‘the unknown’. That is, knowing and not-knowing. It is often when stakes, emotions and eyebrows are high that we find ourselves in this not-knowing area of the spiral. The way that we deal with this ‘not-knowing’ is often a key determiner for the kinds of outcomes that emerge. Being able to stand the complexity, the intensity, the discomfort and generally being happy with not-knowing takes some real effort. Incidently, it is here in the not-knowing area that an open space facilitator will often find themselves.

So, here we were, discussing all about ‘knowing about knowing’ and what emerges is the importance of being happy with not-knowing. Typical.

About  Andrew Rixon


  1. Dorine Ruter says:

    Thanks for this post Andy. There’re some questions I’d like to ask regarding this. You write:

    Being able to stand the complexity, the intensity, the discomfort and generally being happy with not-knowing takes some real effort.

    Can you explain to me some aspects of HOW you think such a state of not-knowing should be dealt with in a positive way? Does this mean giving up on wanting to move to the other side of the known/not-known spiral or is ‘knowing’ (learning, improving) always the end goal? Does it take a group with knowers AND not-knowers, so the first ones can use the questions of the latter to move the group as a whole forward? (Sorry for the fuzzy sentence!)

    From the perspective of using not-knowing to come to a better knowing eventually: I just came from the Creating Passionate Users weblog where Kathy Sierra wrote on a similar topic in her post The Clueless Manifesto.

    Cluelessness is underrated. It’s the newbie who does something he didn’t know was supposed to be impossible. It’s the naive guy asking the one dumb question any clued-in person would diss. And it’s that question that leads to the answer no expert would have found.

    I like this whole idea of valuing not-knowing and cluelessness and would like to hear some more about this.

    [Sorry for the long comment! Didn’t intend to take over your blog!]

  2. Andrew Rixon says:

    Great contribution Dorine. Thanks!
    In terms of valuing not-knowing and cluelessness, I think and maybe more feeeel, that it is by ‘being happy with not-knowing’ that you can approach the ‘clueless manifesto’ which you described from Kathy Sierra.
    Often when I find myself in this not-knowing area there is a feeling of wanting to very quickly jump out of it, in any way I can, back into the known / knowing arena. For some reason we seem to feel security about ‘knowing’ stuff.
    Coping with the complexity, the intensity and the discomfort of not-knowing means that in reality, you give yourself more time to explore this not-knowing space.
    Being more open to the not-knowing space maybe opens oneself up clueslessness possibly leading to what we then perceive as breakthrough thinking. Whenever it happens.
    This all said from the space of not-knowing. 🙂

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