Fear of Not Knowing

1 Sep

It helps if you don’t need to know everything.

In the olden days I think we library and IT staff were better able to convince ourselves that we knew most of what we needed to.  So when we talked to our customers, we were fairly sure we would have a meaningful answer for them.  There was comfort and stasis in that.  It’s easier to engage customers if you think you’ll subsequently know how to help them.

Now we are faced with a lot of change.  Information is changing.  The amount of information is changing.  The formats information comes in are changing.  The people who get to create information are changing.  The way we use information is changing.  The way we create information is changing.  The way we communicate is changing.  The ways we teach, learn, & produce scholarship (activities that involve information and communication) are changing.  The structure of the academic enterprise seems to be changing.

In this context it’s hard to feel like you know everything you need to know.   AND it’s perhaps more imperative than ever that we engage our people in conversations–about what they are doing, what they need, whether we’re helpful or not–and in collaborations–learning together, with pilots, informal study groups, conversations–to help figure out bit by bit what our activities will be and our institutions look like in the digital age.

The emphasis shifts from knowing answers in advance to knowing how to work with people just in time.  To not just find answers but to construct or create how we teach, learn, and produce scholarship today and tomorrow.  You can’t really know everything, but you can partner with people.  You can release yourself from the obligation to be omniscient but you should replace that obligation with the need to be omni-collaborative.

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3 Responses to “Fear of Not Knowing”

  1. Kyle Mackie September 1, 2010 at 4:25 pm #

    excellent post, David. Echoing some of what I’ve been thinking about whilst reading Shirky’s “Cognitive Surplus”. Read it?

    • wedaman September 1, 2010 at 4:31 pm #

      Thanks, Kyle. Not yet!

    • wedaman September 1, 2010 at 6:51 pm #

      I’ve now watched Shirky’s TED talk:

      Not sure if this talk gets at what you might see in his book. It’s a nice talk, though: the things that use our resources (such as cognitive surplus) to grow civic value will produce the culture we want; that transactional arrangements might be less valuable than those that honor & create & build social contracts…

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