Introduction to
The Journal of Not Knowing

The twenty-first century changed the rules. While life has always had its challenges when new situations showed up, until now we thought we could handle them. After all, life was local. We knew the people, circumstances, and places that mattered to us. Familiarity gave us comfort that we had things under control, or so it seemed.

That comfort ended with the rise of the internet. With its global reach and instant transmission of massive amounts of information, we now inhabit a fast, hyperconnected world. Constant change is the norm. Whether we like it or not, people, circumstances, and places we don’t know can have a direct impact on our lives. Much feels unpredictable, out of our control, and uncomfortable.

At least, that is one way of looking at it.

Another way is to see the shifting horizon not as an obstacle, but as a source of inspiration. Instead of running away from uncertainty, we can treat the unknown as a source of adventure, one that is rich with opportunities to make a difference to our teams, customers, and communities. Best of all, exploring new possibilities can bring meaning to our lives as we improve the lives of others.

Embarking on The Journey of Not Knowing®

Pursuing possibilities sets you on an uncharted path toward finding new solutions to sticky problems. The path can be uncomfortable. To uncover what people really want, you have to ask questions no one wants to answer, poke your nose into other people’s business, and stare at things by the cold light of dawn, without the gloss of popular, preconceived notions.

Once your detective work leads you to a new idea, then you have to endure the uncomfortable process of testing it, without knowing whether the idea will succeed or fail. Not only do you have to satisfy yourself that the idea will work, you also have to convince others to join your experiment. Rather than responding enthusiastically, they might well resist your idea because of their own discomfort. New ideas call for change, and change, even good change, is hard.

The greatest resistance, however, might come from you. Change has its allure for the positive difference it can bring, but the road to the new can be bumpy, uncertain, and scary. You might end up in a ditch, get lost, or arrive at a different and wonderful place. It can go in any direction.

To smooth the bumps, you can slip into defensive behaviors, such as micromanagement, perfectionism, or disengagement. They bring short-term relief, but turning away rather than toward discomfort will take you off the course to achieving greater things.

Navigating the discomfort of the unknown in pursuit of new ideas is the central message of the book, The Journey of Not Knowing: How 21st-Century Leaders Can Chart a Course Where There Is None, a companion to this workbook. Leading and living in the twenty-first century requires adopting a mindset that is comfortable with the discomfort of not knowing.

In other words, initiating change means opening yourself to the emotional challenge of getting there—self-doubt, nervousness, edginess, fear. Such reactions are normal, yet you can expend a lot of energy fighting them. Moving to a better place involves learning that discomfort is a critical and exciting part of growth, for you and the organizations you lead.

What Is The Journal of Not Knowing?

woman walking in the desert
The Journal of Not Knowing grew out of requests from readers of the Journey book who wanted to apply the lessons of the Arrow, Inc., story and the Journey of Not Knowing model to their own lives as leaders and individuals. The Arrow story describes a day in the life of an eight-member leadership team. To win a critical new piece of business, they have to explain to the board of Porter, Inc., the potential new client, why another client fired them. None of them knows why and, until Porter asked, none of them bothered to find out. The request sets them on a journey that requires each of them to overcome their defended behaviors and open the door to new information and growth.

This journal is intended to give you a place to explore your dreams, your relationship with the discomfort of the unknown, and your goals for the future. It combines questions, exercises, and other tools to spark ideas about where you would like to go, what past and present experiences influence your actions, and how to step out of your own way. It also will provide tools to chart a course through the new.

The workbook is designed for individuals and for teams. In other words, you can choose to work on it alone or in a group. If you prefer to work alone, I recommend discussing at least some of the questions with trusted friends, family members, or colleagues. It enriches self-discovery. It also can ease the tension of obsessive thinking that could make you feel unsure or frozen in place. There is nothing like hearing someone say, “No, you’re not crazy. I’ve felt that way before,” or, “Wow, given your situation, that idea sounds awesome!”

The Power of the Pen

ladder to the sky
In these digital days, writing with a pen might feel like an unnatural act. While it might seem strange to break away from a keyboard, multiple studies have shown that the kinesthetic action of handwriting can facilitate better concentration, increase commitment, and promote a higher level of recall when compared to keyboard entry. It also will enable you to scribble notes in the margins, circle concepts, and create images to chart your course along the twisting road to something more exciting.

Dare to Be Selfish

If you have read this far, you have already taken a significant step toward investing in yourself. Finding the time to work on personal growth in the twenty-first century requires a major commitment.

Dare to be selfish and devote time to yourself. The clarity you discover from working on your dreams and a route toward realizing them will release energy for you and those around you. After all, you are worth it.

The Power of Action

Once you have recorded your thoughts in the journal, put them into action. Adopting new behaviors that accompany new ideas can feel awkward. Yet without traveling in the discomfort zone of the new, growth will not happen. The expression “growing pains” takes on special meaning when it comes to change. It is a visceral process with a power that cannot be denied. That is the adventure of living fully, sharing with others, and giving to yourself.

Enjoy the journey!