One day, I met with a researcher in a coffee shop. Language was a problem, but he spoke more English than I did Japanese. I had just been to the bookstore and was lugging a stack of books on highly advanced computer-science topics. It was all Greek to me, but I figured something might rub off. Suddenly the guy asks me, "Who gives you permission to read those books?"
I was stunned. Bowled over. Did his puzzlement reflect some sort of cultural difference? I didn't think so. It struck me that this fellow was just being more honest and direct than an American might be. He was articulating what many people in today's world seem to assume: that official authorization is required to learn new things. I thought about this deeply, and I'm thinking about it still.
Who gives us permission to explore our world? The question implies that the world in fact belongs to someone else. Who gives us permission to communicate what we've experienced, what we believe, what we've discovered of that world for ourselves? The question betokens a history of voice suppressed, of whole cultures that have come to believe only power is sanctioned to speak. Because the ability to speak does involve power. It entails ownership and the control conferred by ownership. As the saying has it: "Money talks, bullshit walks."
Right then and there, in that chance encounter in some random Tokyo coffee shop, I gave myself blanket permission: to be curious, to learn, to speak, to write. But it's a long road from permission to practice, and there's plenty of negative reinforcement in between. Freedom of expression may be called out loftily in the U.S. Constitution, but even after two centuries of democracy, it's still a far cry from second nature.
What can I add? This last paragraph sums things up nicely. As knowledge workers we all know we don't need permision to learn or be creative - so what holds us back at times?
Video: Gurteen Knowledge Cafe, NAB, Melbourne, October 2010
This is a short video of a Gurteen Knowledge Cafe that I facilitated for Peter Houlihan at the National Australia Bank in Melbourne in October 2010.
The session was captured on a flip cam without the use of a roving mic, so the sound is not clear and has had some extensive editing to fit into a short learning piece, but it gives a good idea of what the Cafe is all about.
The question posed to the group as the "conversational seed" was "What if true leadership involves embracing complexity by widening the circle of involvement rather than restricting it?
If you are interested in Knowledge Management, the
or the role of conversation in organizational life then you my be interested in this online book I am writing on
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