‘Not knowing’ liberates you

My son asked me the most complex question ever. Who came first? Chicken or Egg? Before jumping into giving an answer, the idea of helping him ‘explore’ stuck me. My question to him was Q: ‘What do you think?’ A: Chicken. Q:Where did the chicken come from? A: Mother chicken. Q:Did it directly came from mother chicken? No. Mother chicken put a egg and it came from it. Q: Where did that egg come from? A: Mother chicken. Q: Where did that mother chicken came from? Egg. After a while, it was so confusing for me. It left me wondering what was my original objective. Next question. Ok. Ok. Who came first? He said ‘Chicken’.

He was convinced by his answer and his conviction was more convincing than the answer itself. He taught me a powerful lesson. Sometimes, the answers may all look the same or there may be no clarity or probing more may lead to a vicious circle. In those times, we need to have the conviction to make a choice fully knowing that we don’t know enough about the problem and be comfortable with the uncertainty. Not knowing does not necessarily stop action and in fact, could become a powerful approach as we can learn from the example below.

‘Not knowing liberates you into asking anything’ says ace Indian film maker ManiRatnam who has directed some of the most successful movies in India. Maniratnam didn’t have a formal training in the film industry which means he didn’t work as an Assistant Director with any leading film maker before he plunged into direction. This is very unusual especially in the early 80’s when technology was not available to the consumer in the way it is available today. He was a MBA graduate who got attracted to the film industry and jumped into the bandwagon without following the traditional route.

Maniratnam said in an interview to a news channel IBNLive, ‘The biggest advantage of a film director is that you don’t have to know everything. You don’t have to know cinematography. You don’t have to know music. But you should be able to ask for them. Not knowing, liberates you into asking anything’. Once during a shoot, he had asked a cinematographer why he couldn’t shoot outdoors for a particular scene in his film and the cinematographer had told that the exposure is high and used technical terms like 4 or 5 stops more. Mani’s ignorant question ‘So?’ pushed the cinematographer to think beyond the ‘routine’ and forced him to find a new way to shoot the scene in the way Mani wanted. In a way, he used his ‘not knowing’ very effectively to push the boundaries and produce stunning outcomes. But this is possible only when we know what we want, why we want it and we have the ability to enroll people into our ideas. Otherwise, it will be an ignorant makeup that will wear off once pushed back.

Let me illustrate with a story that I read from a spiritual teacher, Swami Sukabodhananda – Positivity is like a incense stick lit up in a room to overcome the stink caused by a dead rat lying inside the room. The stink will come back to haunt once the incense stick fades away. Realism is taking the dead rat out and then, lighting up an incense stick so that the good smell stays for a long time. If ManiRatnam was just pushing his team without having a clear understanding of what he wants, the dead rat would have come back to haunt him.

Leadership is all about belief and helping others to believe in your belief. It is about fully understanding the ‘what’ and ‘why’ while allowing the ‘how’ to manifest itself through the power and ability of the team. Not knowing the ‘how’ may liberate oneself to clarify the fundamental assumptions and as a result, push the boundaries to produce expanded outcomes.

Image Credits: http://www.madrastalkies.com

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