Monday, August 2, 2010

"I Have Already Told You More Than 125% Of What I Know" by Bob Sutton

"I Have Already Told You More Than 125% Of What I Know"

I first heard from a charming and honest statement years ago from a Stanford colleague who was being asked question after question about a case study he had done. He was providing us one compelling answer after another. But then he stopped himself in mid-sentence and said he refused to answer more questions because, as the headline says, "I have already told you more than 125% of what I know."
I think that those of us who are alleged to have expertise in certain topics can easily fall into this trap as we try to be helpful to others, and rather than stopping and realizing that we are beyond our expertise, we just keep saying more and more about things we know less and less about.
I was thinking of this comment this morning after I got yet another media inquiry to talk about swearing in the workplace, a topic I officially retired from talking about after my NPR interview on power players and profanity.  I did devote time to reading research on swearing and such and did learn some interesting lessons from The No Asshole Rule (especially from all the great comments and emails).  But after being pressed pretty hard by a reporter to do another interview, I realized it was time to turn back to topics I know more about, and I used the "125%" line to deliver the message.
I don't think it is always bad, by the way, to tell more than you know so long as you make clear that you are speculating or hypothesizing beyond the information you have.  A lot of creativity happens that way, but when you do so, it is good to understand (and explain to others) that this the case.  This isn't an easy thing to do, however, because we human beings often have excessive confidence in our knowledge and expertise ESPECIALLY about areas we are must ignorant about. Comforting, isn't it?  The path to self-awareness is not easy for any of us humans.

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