About Free Range Work Space

> “We demand rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty!”
– Vroomfondel
– Douglas Adams writing in The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy

Vroomfondel and Majikthise would, I think, be conflicted about what I am about to write. As philosophers or “working thinkers” they were understandably horrified that the supercomputer Deep Thought might deduce the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything. In this I agree with them wholeheartedly, the point of those big questions is to constantly ask them, not actually to know the answer.

Why? Well it’s obvious. Complex, personal questions don’t have simple, universal answers. Facts are simple and universal. Truth isn’t.

Where I disagree with them, however, is on their insistence that the search for the “eternal verities” and the “Quest for Ultimate Truth” should be the exclusive job of working thinkers, or any other kind of specialist. In fact, I think the exact opposite.

Expertise and experience, as wonderful as they are, can also be burdensome. The Curse of Knowledge is a cognitive bias that leads experts to struggle to see things from the point of view of those who are less expert than they. A clear problem for anyone working as an expert dealing with non experts. Then we have then Illusion of Truth bias, linked the the concept of salience, in which people are more likely to believe something is true if they have heard it before. This one is more subtle since we may not notice as experts how we favour what we have previously seen and discount the unexpected. Similar to this is Attention Blindness, if we know what we are looking for we literally can’t see what we don’t expect. A problem that can only affect those with expertise and experience.

At the other end of this spectrum we have what Buddhist call Beginner Mind. Some characterise this as trying to forget what you already know. This is silly. It’s impossible to forget what you already know intentionally and mindfulness rests not on conflict but on openness. In reality, Beginner Mind is not about forgetting what you know and pretending to be ignorant, it’s about openness to what you don’t know, deepening awareness of the uncertain and allowing new insights to arise.

Think if the mind as being able to anticipate, experience, and reflect but, with limited, shared resources. The more brain juice we splurge on anticipation and reflection the less we have available to experience. The Beginner Mind has nothing to anticipate, nothing to reflect on. The Beginner Mind is entirely available to experience.

The long and short of this? Expertise can get in the way of discovering new truths while a Beginner Mindset could be the path to deeper insight.

This is why I agree that we do need rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty. Without them we could never learn anything! But I don’t agree that we should or even could leave this up to experts to sort out. They know too much!

If you’re a knowledge worker then you are, in that sense, an expert. You’re probably also a client of knowledge workers. The question now, is, what to do about this apparent problem?

That, my friends, is what Free Range Work Space is all about.

I am such a tease. 

Find out more at Clerkenwell Design Week where I, Steve Brewer and Adam Burtt-Jones of Burtt-Jones and Brewer will fill your brains with existential doubt.