In technology, the currency of our realm is knowledge, so it’s no surprise that we have a tendency to want to show off that knowledge. And this urge seems to manifest itself in two ways: Being a teacher, or being a know-it-all.
If you work in IT, you’re probably familiar with a know-it-all or two. Talking with them isn’t so much a discussion, but being talked at (often condescendingly). The sensation is similar to shutting a door on your hand. It’s just no fun to be around them. You also probably know a teacher or two, and they’re always a delight to talk to, to discuss with, and it’s a true back and forth.
Most of us have the capacity within us to be both, and few people are all one or all the other. It’s also important to avoid the trap and the lure of being a know-it-all. For most knowledge workers, I think there’s a seductive tendency to be a know-it-all. Most of us want to increase our standing among our peers, and it seems blurting out a fact or opinion can be a good way to do that. In fact, it’s the wrong way.
Obviously, no one wants to be around a know-it-all. Best case, they suck the life and fun out of a room (or chat room), and at worst they create a toxic environment that stunts everyone’s growth, including their own.
Teachers learn more, and learn faster. It’s no accident there are so many blogs started by people in the process of getting their CCIE. Teaching will help you understand any subject at a much deeper level, and blogging about a process like CCIE obtainment is a tried and true studying method. It also reminds me of one of my favorite Einstein quotes.
If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself. -Albert Einstein
Want to get really good? Teach someone. Write a blog article, do a podcast, whatever. The questions you get (that you won’t know all the answers to) will help you fill in the blanks of a subject that you didn’t even know were there.
Want another reason not to be a know-it-all? It’s very hard to reach a really high level and be a know-it-all. All of the really high level people I’ve worked with, they all have aspects of a teacher to them. There are a few fairly accomplished know-it-alls I’m aware of, but it’s easy to see how their attitude limits them. They could be so much more.
Are you a know-it-all or a teacher?
Here’s how you tell the difference between someone who acts like a teacher, versus someone who acts like a know-it-all.
Know It All
- Offers up an (unsolicited) opinion at any opportunity
- Very little listening, lots of talking
- Is the final authority on anything
- Doesn’t admit ignorance (Either dances around it, or outright lies)
- Open their mouths to show off
- Unwilling to be wrong
- Are no fun to be around
- Listens at least as much as they talk
- Has opinions, willing to change them as a result of discussion
- Admits ignorance
- Are awesome to be around
- Open their mouths to learn or to teach
- Happy to be wrong
- Are awesome to be around
Be a teacher, and not a know-it-all. Many of us have the tendency to act like a know-it-all, and I’ve certainly done my fair share. But it’s avoidable, and beneficial to do so. As the old saying goes, if you’re mouth is open, you’re not learning anything. And we all have plenty to learn. And also really, if you’re a know-it-all, you’re no fun to be around.