I’d like to ask you a question. What is the most important phrase that has helped shape your life? Your decisions?
Give this a hard thought.
The one that has worked for me is – “I Don’t Know.”
Everything that surrounds you is a result of someone at some moment uttering this phrase. Look around you, look at the screen you’re reading this newsletter on. If necessity is the mother of invention, ‘I don’t know’ would happen to be its father.
It is a wonderful ship that has led mankind discover hitherto unexplored lands. Subtle variations of this phrase have been the vector for unprecedented progress. With the certainty of a shadow, it has followed primates through their evolutionary history.
“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” – Socrates
I don’t know is the reason why I can sit where ever I want and type this newsletter. It is also the reason you are able to read this where ever you are, irrespective of the time and place. A very brief inventory of the “I don’t know” leading up to these events is mind boggling.
This is a brief list which does injustice to our accomplishments, but I hope you get the idea behind it. The entire knowledge of the world accumulated serves as proof – of the efficacy of “I don’t know” – between the then and the now. Hiding behind progress is this simple phrase.
Yet, you are discouraged to use this phrase freely and sprinkle it every time you have a conversation. At school, at home and in society – admitting not knowing something isn’t considered as a positive trait. People may label you as Mr./ Ms. Ignoramus. It is anything but. You are expressing your thirst to learn. Everyone has been a party to this situation and has also been on both sides of the game – the asking and the shaming. For a civilisation that has established itself on the premise of “I don’t know”, it is ironical to be subject to ridicule for using it.
Uttering this wonderful phrase opens up a world of opportunities to learn. It is one of the most under rated triggers to learn. You are opening a new area of your brain to something new. And the brain is always curious to learn.
Saying “I don’t know”:
- acknowledges the limitations that bind you. This is the first step to learning. If uttered during a conversation, it will encourage the other person to voice their thoughts. It helps in you becoming a better conversationalist.
- in a conference room stereotypes you as lacking experience in the field. But it opens you up and makes you workable, ready to accept other ideas and then shape your own which might have been improbable otherwise.
- will save you financially too. Whether it’s a business you own or whether it’s your personal finances. To hedge against unforeseen cataclysmic events, you will always maintain a buffer to help weather the storm. Over confidence that good times will always last could be the last straw to break your back. We’re seeing businesses blow up and lives ruined in the present pandemic.
Granting the unknown an upper hand will leave you vulnerable and cautious. This will help you tread carefully on thin ice. Because, when you say “I don’t know” you load up bags of humility, patience and respect for the unknown. It will force you to wait before making a judgement that may hit you in the face. Think about some of the best decisions you’ve made or the most important lessons that you’ve learnt over the course of your life. They will all be a result of some variation of this premise.
Acknowledge the thirst and hunger that accompanies this humble phrase and leverage it to reach greater heights.