Challenging Our Own Mental Models and Our Growth as Consultants (Part 2 of 3)

Sections of this topic

    (See part 1 of 3.)

    The personal development lessons come from putting myself into what Richard Leider called “The Land Of I Don’t Know. “ Putting myself into a total situation where I literally do not know how to survive on my own or I literally do not know what is going on half the time, or how things work. Imagine putting yourself in a small village in Western Kenya for a month. Living without electricity, getting water from a well, or rainwater collected in tanks. Imagine you do not know how to cook without poisoning yourself and your comrades. Most of the food in the local market doesn’t look much like what you are used to and the bed sags and the rooster wakes you up too early to imagine.

    And also imagine that you are in a loving tribe whose physical space is in your face and touching you to see if that color rubs off. You are in a world of children and adults who beam to see you and greet you and bless you and want to hear and learn from you. It is a world where no one passes on the road without shaking hands and greeting each other as if it has been years since we saw each other yesterday.

    It would sharpen your perceptions. It would help you to get clear about who you are and who you are not. You would extend your physical and mental antennae to not miss a cue that might be a clue as to how to operate successfully as a stranger in a strange land. You would spend a lot more time making sure you understand and are being understood. It would teach you a lot about yourself.

    To Live In The Land Of I Don’t Know is to question assumptions in uncertain situations, where we experience every now and then moment of insight into the ambiguity of it all. Stepping into this land requires social sensitivity and behavioral flexibility. You have to be able to “read” what’s going on and respond appropriately. You have to work hard for communication clarity and get at what’s behind the words. You have to hear the words and “dwell in” the non-verbal meaning. You have to make the environment your own – even if you are scared. Oh, of course, we don’t get scared- we get anxious. Who wants to admit to being scared? But then what do we do when we get anxious? What do we do (behaviorally) when we feel like we are losing control? Do we deepen our listening or do we get in our own way?


    For more resources, see the Library topics Consulting and Organizational Development.


    Jim Smith has over 40 years of organization development experience in a wide range of organizations. He can be reached at