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6 min read

The Knowing Mode vs. The Learning Mode

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You may have seen our tribute to Dr. Lee Thayer several weeks back. We were honored to give an ode to him and his work as he passed on from this world. For many of us in TCN, Dr. Thayer had a great impact on our lives and our learning and development as leaders. I have been reflecting on some of my greatest learning lessons from my time with Dr. Thayer since his passing, and probably the most important one is the difference between the knowing mode and the learning mode. What exactly are “the knowing mode” and “the learning mode”?

When I first heard Dr. Thayer use these phrases, I thought, “Well, surely I am in the learning mode so let me check that box.” Not so fast, mister! The more time I spent around Dr. Thayer, the more I realized that most of my ideas and conversations were simply to prove my point. This realization was prompted by his asking me questions and rattling my cage. I can still remember the day when, in one of his classes, I had a “Claritin commercial moment”. Just like the commercial, it seemed as though everything was in living color and then a film was removed, and I could really see in living color. It was so simple, yet the paradigm shift felt like my fingernails dragging across a board as my grip slipped away from the old paradigm. Then, as the film was removed, I wondered why I had not lived my life like this before.


I began to simply go into conversations and my day-to-day life like I had all the world to learn, therefore I asked more questions. In fact, I would ask myself, “What is the best question to ask right now?” That simple shift began conversations like nothing I had experienced before. As Dr. Thayer would say, questions are life-giving, statements, well…not so much.

The knowing mode is statement-oriented. The knowing mode isn’t inquisitive. It seeks to showcase what it already knows rather than explore what could be missing. The knowing mode is bondage. It’s also insidious and hard to shake.


Dr. Thayer would often say learning = growth and growth = life. The learning mode is indeed life-giving. And it always starts with asking questions with a general desire and curiosity to learn.

So, let’s try a thought experiment: are you in the learning mode? How do you know? What did you learn yesterday? How did you learn it? Stick with that for a while.

My challenge to all of us, myself included, is to approach tomorrow after we read this with a new paradigm – to approach every situation as if it were the first time we have seen it. Then pause and think, “What’s the best question I can ask here?” See if it does not remove the film like the Claritin commercial for you, and watch as your world begins to shift before your eyes.

Chris Comeaux, President / CEO of Teleios Collaborative Network


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