I don’t think of myself as an arrogant person. I generally get along with people. I don’t hear reports of people thinking of me as annoying or obnoxious. And yet sometimes, when it comes to learning from other people, I am arrogant. I act as though I believe that most people don’t know as much as I do, and so they have nothing to teach me. I find it really easy to flip the bozo bit. This is not a good thing.
When I was working on my master’s thesis 20+ years ago, I had to read a lot of papers and journal articles about my topic. I distinctly remember reading them with an eye to finding flaws, minimizing their work, and “proving” that my ideas were better, rather than trying to find the good things and learn from them. How unhealthy is that?
What is odd is that I am actually really big on learning, growing, improving. I spend a lot of time reading, practicing, and trying to implement the things I’ve learned.
How does that work? On the one hand, I don’t think I can learn from people; on the other hand, I’m learning all the time.
I think I divide people into two classes: those who obviously know more than me, and those who don’t. I am quite willing to learn from the former group, but not the latter. Seth Godin talks about this a little bit in Is a famous thinker better than a great one?:
Does a bestselling author have more to say than someone who has written a brilliant book that didn’t sell?
Does a tenured professor at Yale deserve more credence than someone doing breakthrough work at a local state school?
And yet we hesitate to invest the time to hear ideas from lesser-known sources. It’s not fair to the unknown inventor, but it’s true.
Everyone has something to teach me, if I’m willing to hear what they have to say, and to really listen. I think listening well is the key. I need to listen for understanding, not for ammunition.
I know all of this in my head. I’ve had enough experiences pair programming with newer programmers to know that I learn from them, too. I just need to get the lesson more deeply embedded so that it becomes my default response, and not something that I have to consciously remember to do.
I’m better than I used to be, but not as good as I want to be, so I’ll keep working at it.