Know-it-alls vs. learn-it-alls

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella originally read Carol Dweck’s Mindset: The New Psychology of Success from the context of his own kids’ education. But one of the ideas stuck with him so much that he’s tried to inculcate it through the Microsoft culture: be a learn-it-all, not a know-it-all.

As Nadella describes in this interview:

“The author [Dweck] describes the simple metaphor of kids at school. One of them is a ‘know-it-all’ and other is a ‘learn-it-all’, and the ‘learn-it-all’ always will do better than the other one even if the ‘know-it-all’ kid starts with much more innate capability. Going back to business: If that applies to boys and girls at school, I think it also applies to CEOs, like me, and entire organizations, like Microsoft. We want to be not a ‘know-it-all’ but ‘learn-it-all’ organization.”

While I’ve never heard it put that way, colleges are looking for exactly the same kind of attitude from applicants. But since the pithy phrase could easily be misinterpreted, here’s how to cultivate a learn-it-all attitude in high school.

Of course, you are not expected to actually “learn it all.” But colleges appreciate a student who’s curious, a student who actually enjoys learning for its own sake and not just as a way to get a grade to boost a GPA.

They appreciate a student who has a favorite class and a favorite teacher.

They appreciate a student who lets their curiosity propel them to learn things outside of school, whether it’s college-level calculus, cooking authentic Korean food, or rebuilding an automotive engine.

They appreciate a student who’s excited about all the learning that’s waiting for them in college.

And most importantly, they appreciate a student who is comfortable admitting what they don’t know and what they wish they understood better. That’s the true genius of the learn-it-alls. To them, learning isn’t an accomplishment—it’s an attitude, one that recognizes how interesting and complex the world is and continuously propels them forward with more learning.

Know-it-alls behave like they already know all they need to know. Learn-it-alls behave like they can never know enough.