The problem with “I know”

maxresdefaultThere is an old story  – with many iterations – of a Zen master who was asked how to obtain enlightenment by a routinely vague character; usually someone of importance or stature.

Here’s a version:

Once, a long time ago, there was a wise Zen master. People from far and near would seek his counsel and ask for his wisdom. Many would come and ask him to teach them, enlighten them in the way of Zen. He seldom turned any away.

One day an important man, a man used to command and obedience came to visit the master. “I have come today to ask you to teach me about Zen. Open my mind to enlightenment.” The tone of the important man’s voice was one used to getting his own way.

The Zen master smiled and said that they should discuss the matter over a cup of tea. When the tea was served the master poured his visitor a cup. He poured and he poured and the tea rose to the rim and began to spill over the table and finally onto the robes of the wealthy man. Finally the visitor shouted, “Enough. You are spilling the tea all over. Can’t you see the cup is full?”

The master stopped pouring and smiled at his guest. “You are like this tea cup, so full that nothing more can be added. Come back to me when the cup is empty. Come back to me with an empty mind.”

How many times have you been telling a story or explaining a point and the other person’s response is a bland, soulless “I know”? Like: OF COURSE, you figured out quantum mechanics and my pithy interest in the topic (and my interest in sharing it with you) is common knowledge that only a fool would repeat! Well Duh!

It’s a one-way street. A closed door. A slap in the face. A punch in the gut. It makes you feel a little yucky and desperately undervalued.

  • It’s rainy out: I know.
  • You shouldn’t eat that: I know.
  • We have to be there by 8:00: I know
  • Don’t climb on that dead branch because you’ll fall out of that extremely tall tree: I know (true story and I didn’t listen to my uncle and I snapped, crackled, and popped all the way down)

Saying “I know” is a dead end: but not for the person telling the tale. For the person saying “I know”. You have effectively blocked yourself from leaning into a potentially interesting conversation, learning situation, or most important, providing space to someone who is sharing something they find valuable.

What would it be like to remain silent? Or better yet, ask questions. Get curious and find out what’s driving the desire to talk about the subject. And for the non-quantum mechanic talks (i.e. it’s rainy, watching what you eat, being on time), how about the fact that all of these things show that a person cares about you?

But you don’t need that, right? You got this. You’re a badass mother-trucker!

Deep breath.

Sometimes, I know you know. But I just want to talk. You are meaningful to me… and I want to be near you. I want to hear your voice. And, maybe I’m feeling small and I want to be heard. I stay locked inside all day and want to get out and stretch my legs.

Answers are a commodity that can easily be summoned from the interwebs and your smart relative who seems to have learned and done everything already. Went to Peru and did ayahuasca? Oh yeah, I flew first class to Peru, had sex on Machu Pichu and did ayahuasca three times (at once) while finishing my dissertation on how to be the most awesome person in the whole world!

I know.

William Shakespeare said that “A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool.” When Chaerephon asked the oracle of Delphi who the smartest person to ever live was, the response was that it was Socrates due to what is now known as the “Socratic paradox”, something that Socrates intimately understood about himself. “I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.”

“You don’t learn much when you’re talking” – Jack Nicholson

So listen up!

Because I think I know something about knowing nothing: life is much more of an adventure, more fun, more gregarious and transforming when you stop being right and start being open. Notice the difference there: the opposite of ‘right’ is not ‘wrong’.

This is all for you. The gift you give someone with the space you allow for their thoughts and dreams to manifest and bloom is such a wonderful place to play.

Be the silence that listens. Only then will you know.


“You observe a lot just by watching” – Yogi Berra


Fill in the blank on this recent Wall Street Journal article quote:

“The human element of ___________ is always going to be important, but so is all the science and technology”.

If you filled in the blank with “baseball”, you are correct! But it could have easily been “pharmaceutical industry”, “chemical engineering”, “space exploration”… pretty much any industry. The quote comes from Houston Astros pitcher Dallas Keuchel the day after winning the World Series (sorry Dodgers fans).

In the last few years, the Astros have become deeply involved in the analytics of baseball by grinding numbers and massaging their game based on the metrics. But it eventually became too analytical of an endeavor and the human aspect was seriously threatened as players began to feel like “a number instead of a person”.

Sound familiar?

At the beginning of the current season, the Astros took a slightly different tack as the leadership let down their guard and began connecting with the players in various ways. They began forsaking the ivory tower to walk the locker room and clubhouse to get to know the team on a more intimate level.

This did not mean that the Astros took the foot off the gas surrounding their collection of data, which was proving to be quite valuable. But it signaled to the team a desire to connect and it paid off with huge dividends. Jeff Luhnow, the team’s general manager stated that now, “We’re an open book with our players. We tell them WHY as opposed to how”. If you have read any of my previous posts, you will know how strongly the “why” resonates due to the fact that this is precisely what drives good leadership and in turn, buy-in from those being led.

“Culture is a hard thing to really quantify, but when you see it you know it’s there” – Luhnow

The cultural change even began to break down racial barriers within the team (excluding Gurriel’s gesture) as players furthered themselves by learning other languages in order to better communicate with their mates. #culturehastheabilitytobreakdownbarriers

The Astros chemistry experience with culture has some obvious lessons for all industries. If the goal is big enough, in this case, the World Series, fostering the right team attitude is integral in reaching the loftiest of peaks. The alternative is mediocrity, which can be found in 2nd class dugouts across the globe.

The Developer vs. Intimidator – Leadership archetypes


There are two leadership archetypes that tend to show up again and again in our world: the Developer and the Intimidator.

The Developer works from a place of great internal power, fortitude, and emotional intelligence. These folks lead by example and service. He or she drives innovation by managing the strengths of team members, developing deep, connected relationships, and having the intelligence to know when to get out of the way. They coach other team members all the while remaining a student themselves. They are enthusiastic and with things go right or wrong, they are there accepting the outcome shoulder to shoulder with the rest of the team.

The Intimidator, on the other hand, works from a limited vision, relying on scare tactics and authoritarian control to manage the resources bestowed upon them. These “leaders” play on the weaknesses of others by exploiting soft targets, constantly holding the fear or recourse over team member’s heads to ensure that everyone has no doubt who is in control. They are quick to pass the buck, use the word “I” a lot, and seem to be the expert in all areas. If things go badly, they point fingers, “move seats” of people, and warn others that they have no intention of taking any part of the blame. If things go well, they take the credit.

Developers use anabolic energy to build teams, creating cultures with open communication and respect. Intimidators use catabolic energy to individualize components and create clandestine cultures, shunting power to a select few. Both of these “reactions” create an outcome. The choice comes down to are you interested in building or destroying to get the job done?

Admittedly, Intimidators have a great deal of influence and can even have tremendous success (ahem Steve Jobs). But at what cost? Apple, for example, is wildly successful and has brought stockholders and founders huge fortunes. Is this why we work? For money? For a paycheck? For status?

Many leaders will tell you they build teams. But let’s be honest, they’re lying. It’s lip service. OR, they aren’t lying, they just don’t know how to go about doing it in a way that still honors their own values without getting lost in people pleasing.

My vision is that employees and team members come to work for something other than just a paycheck and benefits. Something that’s more subtle and elusive. Something that has longevity and can indeed create Legacy. And that is, that they come to work for themselves. For how they see themselves as a part of the company they work for. More than a number or a human resource.

And I have a sneaky suspicion that the intimidating leaders of the world would find more joy in their jobs if the people who came to work for them (with them) spoke well of them instead of whispering around the water cooler. People don’t leave bad jobs, they leave bad bosses.

And those developing leaders are eager to continue to build and get feedback on how well they are doing, focusing on areas to improve. An aloof developer can create a wake of despair as team members scratch for recognition.

I have had the pleasure of working with both sides of this equation, including how I have shown up myself. From this experience, I have grown and learned, and have a deeper appreciation for both sides of this dichotomous coin.

If you are interested in learning more about coaching and what it can bring to you or your organization, please get in touch with me.