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We're All Young At Something: Misplaced Certainty

Dr. Foster Mobley // Business, Quotables, Wisdom Leading

Think back to when you were, say, 22 years old. Did you think you had life all figured out? Did you roll your eyes at anyone who told you otherwise? We all did it. It usually resulted in us taking a few shots on the chin later in life, as we discovered that we didn't know everything after all. That's what's known as misplaced certainty, and it's a hallmark of the young. Unfortunately, it's also a hallmark of the older and more experienced. The more you know about a field or subject, the more tempting it is to assume that you've got all the answers. For example, in 1899 Charles H. Duell, Commissioner of the U.S. Office of Patents, made this statement: "Everything that can be invented has been invented." Outrageous? Sure. Arrogant? Absolutely. But all too common. When we presume that we know everything about a field and everything that's possible in it, we close ourselves off to discovery and learning...and we close off the teams we lead as well. The great British philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell said, "In all affairs it's a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted." That's wisdom. That's humility. That's also something we should all try to emulate. In what parts of your life do you owe yourself a look with new eyes?

Think back to when you were, say, 22 years old. Did you think you had life all figured out? Did you roll your eyes at anyone who told you otherwise? We all did it. It usually resulted in us taking a few shots on the chin later in life, as we discovered that we didn't know everything after all. That's what's known as misplaced certainty, and it's a hallmark of the young.

Unfortunately, it's also a hallmark of the older and more experienced. The more you know about a field or subject, the more tempting it is to assume that you've got all the answers. For example, in 1899 Charles H. Duell, Commissioner of the U.S. Office of Patents, made this statement: "Everything that can be invented has been invented." Outrageous? Sure. Arrogant? Absolutely. But all too common. When we presume that we know everything about a field and everything that's possible in it, we close ourselves off to discovery and learning...and we close off the teams we lead as well.

The great British philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell said, "In all affairs it's a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted." That's wisdom. That's humility. That's also something we should all try to emulate.

In what parts of your life do you owe yourself a look with new eyes?

1 Comment // Permalink
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  1. Tim Garmager said:

    Foster, we worked together on the Deloitte's NextGen program. I just wanted you to know that I enjoy your comments. Hope you're doing well. Tim


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Dr. Foster Mobley

Trusted advisor and coach to admired executives globally for 3 decades, Thought leader on wisdom-based approaches to breakthrough leading, "Lead Coach" for Deloitte's experienced and high potential leader development, Team performance advisor to two NCAA championship teams