How Well Do You Grok?

by Andy Wood on November 2, 2015

in Esteem, Exploring the Possibilities, Five LV Laws, Leadership, Life Currency, Love, LV Cycle, Principle of Increase

Business people

It’s a Martian word, so you probably don’t hear it a lot down here, unless you move in some hipster or techie circles. It’s a darkly guttural word that sounds something like a bullfrog in a fight with a cat, so it lacks a certain sense of poetry.

But it’s an important word to describe a unique and powerful ability that can separate:

  • leaders from posers,
  • successful marketers from annoying advertisers,
  • elected officials from also-rans,
  • spiritual shepherds from obnoxious preachers,
  • faithful, lifelong friends or marriage partners from relational flame-outs,
  • Oprah from, well, anybody (okay, just kidding… a little).

I’m referring, of course, to grokking.

This rare word was first coined in 1961 by Robert Heinlein in his science fiction classic Stranger in a Strange Land. Here’s how the book describes it:

Grok means to understand so thoroughly that the observer becomes a part of the observed—to merge, blend, intermarry, lose identity in group experience. It means almost everything that we mean by religion, philosophy, and science—and it means as little to us (because of our Earthling assumptions) as color means to a blind man.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines it this way: “to understand intuitively or by empathy; to establish rapport with” and “to empathize or communicate sympathetically (with); also, to experience enjoyment.” But I think my favorite definition is from Merriam-Webster, which simply says, “to understand profoundly and intuitively.

Heinlein was right – we really don’t have a single English word that captures the meaning of the word, though a few ideas come close. Empathy comes close. So does the now-popular construct of emotional intelligence. Understanding is certainly mixed in there, but it carries more of a detached intellectual component. Christians love to talk about discernment, but it’s too defensive a word, and revelation, but the focus there is on the Revealer.

Grok is different because it combines all of that into one.

Old Couple Walking

Taking Stock of Grok

To grok is to so appreciate your need for and love of something that you seek a constant awareness of it. It is to know someone or something so intimately that you can anticipate next actions or words.

To grok is to feel the joy and pain of another in such a way that you are moved to act on their behalf or in their interest. It is to give and receive expressions of desire, as believers do when they pray or partners do when they negotiate.

Grokking is the muscle memory of a hug or kiss, the physical artistry of a dancer or true musician, or the unique ability to see or hear from the heart. It’s the ability to look in the mirror – literally or figuratively – and see the trace image of another, and know that this is a good thing.

To grok is to humbly approach the very young and very old with the full expectation that they both can teach us profound lessons. It is to transform your professional expertise into something of value that benefits young and old alike.

To grok is to choose a shared identity, formally in a covenant relationship or informally in a partnership of shared commitment. It is also to anticipate the attacks or ambushes aimed at your beloved – whether they see them or not – and to respond with understanding and authority.

To grok is to recognize your place in the commonwealth as a giver and investor first, then as a consumer and debtor. It is to let go of a fearful, stubborn sense of isolation and recognize, as Donne did, that no man is an island – the bell tolls for all of us when it tolls for one of us.

Grokking in the Bible

While it may not have a single English synonym, the experience of grokking does show up in the Bible. It represents the convergence of three Greek words that are translated “to know.” One means knowing through seeing or observing – we call that “getting it.” Another means acquiring knowledge through personal involvement. The third is knowledge through deep intimacy.

I think grokking shows up in all three.

The greatest grokker of all time was Jesus Christ. That’s why people responded to wildly to Him – he embraced His humanity and the people He came to give His life for, and they sensed it. He also used grokking language to describe His relationship with His Father. “I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me,” He said (John 8:28).

Jesus said the same thing about the words He spoke: “For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak” (John 12:49).

Perhaps the most beautiful expression of all is in His High Priestly prayer, where Jesus grokked both the Father and His disciples:

The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me (John 17:22-23).

Did you get that? Jesus prayed that the Father would transform us into an army of grokkers.

The Growing Grokker

Some people seem to come by this naturally. Maybe it’s reflected in a spiritual gift, like the gift of discernment, or in some people’s natural leadership or intuitive abilities. But anybody can shock the flock by rocking the grok.

Yes, I’ve been waiting the whole post to write that.

Hopefully by now you have recognized the immense value of increasing your grokking ability. Well, good news! There are some things that growing grokkers have in common, and these are things we can all practice.

  1. Investigate.

Read. Study. Explore. Ask thoughtful, probing questions. Look to grow in your understanding.

  1. Meditate.

Think deeply. Study closely. Watch carefully. Read thoroughly. Think some more, from different perspectives or angles. Probe gently. Think some more.

  1. Appreciate.

Both in your thoughts and in your words, look for ways that people or subjects or God or even your enemies are different and admirable. Lots of times people approach discernment out of fear, and that has its place. But fear can never make someone into a grokker. Appreciative inquiry can. You don’t have to approve to appreciate. That’s why General Patton read Rommel’s book on tank warfare.  And why Stan Allen once said to me, “I don’t hate the devil – it’s just business.”

  1. Celebrate.

This is where you grok the Lord by worship, you grok your loved ones by expressing praise and gratitude, and you even grok opponents or enemies by communicating respect. Check out the number of times David in psalms outed the tactics of his enemies. And Paul said of Satan that “we are not ignorant of his devices.” Again, celebrate in this context doesn’t mean “approve,” but awareness to the point of calling attention to it.

  1. Imitate.

We’ll leave the devil behind on this one. Pattern yourself after those you adore and love. What can you learn from Jesus? How can you imitate your earthly father or father figure? How can you track someone who serves as a model to you? You will, of course, imitate imperfectly, and you will incorporate your own skills and personality into this. But imitation is still the sincerest form of flattery and a shortcut to grokking.

  1. Collaborate.

Dunce caps are made to be worn one at a time. For everything else there is partnership, community, and collaboration. Come out of the desert, quit trying to fly solo, and embrace the fact that two are still better than one. Our culture may celebrate individual heroes, but the true heroes know better. It’s always a team effort, even if the “team” is you and the Lord. And one of the fast ways to grok another is to work with them on a true team.


Imagine what it could do for your leadership, your career, your marriage or your friendships if you developed the fine art of grokking. Imagine the influence you could have on your company, your community, or your church. One thing is certain: the pathway to relationship and leadership failure is littered by wannabes who simply never took the time to understand first, then preach. Or demand. Or sell. I’m still holding out for a more poetic word. But I’m no longer content to wait to learn the lesson.

Grok that.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Ken Johns November 2, 2015 at 2:42 pm

Thanks for the word that I never heard before. Taking this course from GCU causing me to Grok.


C Shipley November 3, 2015 at 3:32 pm

Remember reading it, never acquired it. Now is the time to take a shot it I believe.

Mosaic Church January 5, 2016 at 4:22 am

The verse in John 8:28 ““I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me,” is my guide as a leader.

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