Are you a grokkist?

Grokkist Life

'to grok' means to understand something profoundly, intuitively or by empathy.

When you grok something, you don’t just learn about it in a detached way, for its use-value. Grokking something means really taking it in, so it becomes part of you.

How to use it:

  • "Kids grok this show immediately but their parents take longer to get it"
  • “I’m busy grokking all the things for my new job”
  • “Managing your time is simple once you grok the idea behind it”
  • “I haven’t fully grokked how to be an adult yet”

The word 'grok' was coined by author Robert Heinlein in the 1961 sci-fi book Stranger in a Strange Land. It's a well-known term among the geek, sci-fi and software developer communities, but it's not yet in widespread mainstream use.

What's a grokkist?

A grokkist is a lifelong learner who moves through life by constantly grokking new things. We accumulate new knowledge and experiences as a way of being.

Our path through life is often squiggly and episodic, but when you look closer there’s usually a red thread that connects the many different things we've grokked.

Grokkists see connections where others don't. That's because, whether we realise it or not, we have knitted together a rich and unique synthesis from the many and varied experiences we have accumulated.

A grokkist's lifetime of earned insights can bring value to others wherever we go.

How do I know if I'm a grokkist?

Many grokkists are grown-ups who are still deciding what to be when they grow up. No matter what age we are, grokkists still have our curiosity intact and we have not yet forgotten how to play.

We tend to have oodles of interests and hobbies – too many, some might say – and we resist specialising too far in any of them lest we miss out for too long on the others...

Too many tennis balls is how a grokkist feels all the time. Nothing sets the tail wagging like an overwhelming deluge of interesting things to chase all at once!

A grokkist may act to others as if too many tennis balls is a huge inconvenience that is somehow holding us back. This is a self-defence mechanism – clearly too many tennis balls is an insane way to live by any sensible standards, so a pre-emptive pretence towards the usual (boring) rules of focus, discipline and productivity must be made.

Some grokkists do self-impose our own rules of focus, discipline and constraint on our interests (for the next 30 days, I'm only going to chase this ball as fast as I can!) but this is something we do for our own amusement – it is playful productivity.

In any case, if a grokkist complains about how much we are trying to do, try taking away some of our tennis balls and see what happens. But...

Get a grokkist among our own kind and watch us explode with excitement and enthusiasm for all the projects we are pursuing simultaneously.

Witness the motivation fuelled by desire simply to find out what happens and discover the ways in which everything might eventually somehow connect.

For a grokkist, this is living.

But try putting that in a CV. Try chasing all your ideas in a school assignment. Witness the micro-expression of anxiety flicker across a grokkist’s face whenever someone asks us ‘so what do you do?’

Grokkists find our own ways to navigate these things over time, to the point where eventually we can forget that it’s an adaptation that carries an overhead on our soul.

We often feel stuck, frustrated, isolated and restless in systems of work and education that were not designed for us as rapid learners and creative problem-solvers who assess situations in multiple dimensions.
This is what a happy grokkist looks like at work

Some of us do well in the system, some find a niche on the edges that suits us, some keep changing things up to survive, and some crash out altogether.

We wonder what’s wrong with us, even while our lived experience confirms to us time and again that such success as we have enjoyed usually comes from understanding things that others don’t see.

Why do we need a word for this?

Everyone knows someone in their life with grokkist tendencies. When they are being kind, people might say that people with such tendencies 'march to the beat of their own drum'. But people are not always kind. And we are not always kind to ourselves.

There is power in naming and framing things.

Being a grokkist is a positive and playful way to identify ourselves that sparks curiosity and discussion.

It's something anyone can opt into if they choose. An optimistic way to frame what can sometimes be lonely or alienating experiences in life. An identity that acknowledges structural factors while emphasising individual agency.

Adopting the name grokkist to describe our way of being is a conscious decision that can bring empowering and transformative benefits to our self-understanding.

Grok on!

Ok, so I'm a grokkist. Now what?

Grokkists are often admired and well-liked, but rarely understood.

We need a space where we can share and draw on each others’ knowledge, experiences and enthusiasms – a community that melts away our isolation, gets us unstuck and keeps us energised.

We're creating an online home for grokkists. A place where we can show up as we are, without the need to compensate for that feeling that we're always somehow doing things the wrong way, even though we know our way works and has got us this far with our soul relatively intact.

A place to rest, recharge and remind ourselves who we are. Welcome, friend.

Where to next?

📥 Sign up to our free bi-weekly email newsletter that celebrates curiosity, learning and life as a grokkist.

🎙 Check out the Still Curious podcast to go inside the rich life experiences of fellow grokkists from many different walks of life.

❤️‍🔥 Explore the Reimagine Education hub where we are connecting teachers, learners, reformers and radicals from all walks of life to creatively reimagine what grokkist-friendly education looks like.

Before you go, I have a question for you...

Danu Poyner

Danu is the founder of Grokkist and host of the Still Curious Podcast. He lives in Auckland, New Zealand and has a career that has become more squiggly than a Norwegian fjord.