Understanding the Experiences of ‘Not Knowing’ in Workplace
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‘Knowing’ is respected, recognized and rewarded, and is the dominant discourse in organizations. The key for understanding and analyzing issues or problems or situations is often seen as ‘knowing’. Amidst the emphasis on ‘knowing’, there is hardly any space for ‘not knowing’. The idea of embracing ‘not knowing’ in management has received scant attention in the last decade in the form of the concept of ‘negative capability’. The present study aims to understand: How do people in organizations deal with situations in which they have a sense of ‘not knowing’? What shapes their response? Constructivist grounded theory methodology has been adopted in this study. The study focuses on the experiences of people occupying leadership and consulting roles. Thirty three in-depth, face to face interviews were conducted and analyzed. The themes that captured participants’ experiences are (dis)comfort with ‘not knowing’, using rhetoric, flexibility, improvisation, ‘extending mind’ and letting go. Participants’ experiences were shaped by their leader or consultant identity, past experiences, relational ties, position in hierarchy, organizational support and work culture. By providing emergent themes grounded in data, the study attempts to enhance the understanding about experiences of ‘not knowing’ and enrich the literature on ‘not knowing’, negative capability, leadership, consulting and identity. The study has implications for practice as well.
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