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Not Knowing What You’re Doing

On August 19, 2013, in Big Data, HR Technology, HR Trends, HRExaminer, by John Sumser

Always distrust tools; always be alert for alternative ways of thinking. Many of the amazing insights that are becoming available involve rethinking the things you think you know.

Always distrust tools; always be alert for alternative ways of thinking. Many of the amazing insights that are becoming available involve rethinking the things you think you know.

The key to really effective use of new data flows is to approach the problem as if you don’t know what you’re doing. Many of the amazing insights that are becoming available involve rethinking the things you think you know. This is the underlying point of the “Everything You Know Is Wrong” discussions I’ve been leading around the country.

I wish the insight were mine alone. It boils down to “Learn tools, and use tools, but don’t accept tools. Always distrust them; always be alert for alternative ways of thinking.”

Always be looking for alternative ways of thinking.

Here’s a section from the notes of a great presentation on the future of programming.

A clarification about “not knowing what you’re doing”

“The most dangerous thought you can have as a creative person is to think you know what you’re doing.”

It’s possible to misinterpret what I’m saying here. When I talk about not knowing what you’re doing, I’m arguing against “expertise”, a feeling of mastery that traps you in a particular way of thinking.

But I want to be clear — I am not advocating ignorance.

Instead, I’m suggesting a kind of informed skepticism, a kind of humility. Ignorance is remaining willfully unaware of the existing base of knowledge in a field, proudly jumping in and stumbling around.

This approach is fashionable in certain hacker/maker circles today, and it’s poison.

Knowledge is essential. Past ideas are essential. Knowledge and ideas that have coalesced into theory is one of the most beautiful creations of the human race.

Without Maxwell’s equations, you can spend a lifetime fiddling with radio waves and never invent radar. Without dynamic programming, you can code for days and not even build a sudoku solver.

It’s good to learn how to do something. It’s better to learn many ways of doing something. But it’s best to learn all these ways as suggestions or hints. Not truth.

Learn tools, and use tools, but don’t accept tools. Always distrust them; always be alert for alternative ways of thinking. This is what I mean by avoiding the conviction that you “know what you’re doing”.

– Bret Victor from “The Future of Programming

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