by Achim Nowak

The Courage To NOT Know

April 8, 2024

The pressure is brutal. To know, to have answers, to offer fresh ideas.

Chances are, you have been hired for your job because you will offer insight and solutions. I love the moment when I know. When I have no doubt, when the next right action is crystal-clear. The moment when I don’t know, however, tends to yield the richer crop.

Because I want you to think I’m smart and knowledgeable, it is tempting to tell you I know even when I clearly don’t.

The pressure is tremendous.

Ever sat in a meeting where everyone pretends to know and no one has a clue?

Next time you congregate with your team and somebody asks What do you think we should do? consider this:

If you know, GREAT. If you don’t, switch to I don’t know – YET!

  • It affirms your faith in the fact that you will know. Shortly – but not just YET.
  • It signals that you’re ready to make a decision – but not just YET.
  • It lets everybody else off the hook and gives them permission to acknowledge their same truth: We don’t know – YET!

In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few.”

Shunryu Suzuki, Japanese Zen

Wanna get out of yadda yadda yadda yadda? Get out of knowing = same old answer same old answer same old answer?

I don’t know – Yet! facilitates a dive into complexity, ambiguity, alternatives. It may frustrate the heck out of those who believe that the familiar answer is just fine. It will invoke a collective sigh of relief from those who believe that same old same old isn’t working.

Not knowing doesn’t always feel good. Don’t hang out there longer than you need to, but trust that out of the tangle of complexity a new I KNOW will emerge. This I KNOW will be borne of collective exploration. The emerging KNOW will be wiser than the hasty KNOW. It will be a KNOW of conviction.

You may end up with the familiar answer. The answer will have been earned.

The greatest leaders know what they don’t know. They don’t fake the knowing. They trust that others may know more. And they trust their own NOT YET.

I don’t know – YET! is your insurance policy against same old same old. And it relieves you of that awful pressure of having to have answers, all the time. It may be wise to fake confidence. It is fatal to fake knowing.

WARNING: If you habitually do NOT make decisions because you worry that you don’t have enough data, if you continue to dig and dig into minutiae that may be interesting but not relevant, if the notion of committing to a course of action intimidates the heck out of you – I don’t know YET! is NOT for you. Fully embrace I know ENOUGH.

Everybody else, consider making I don’t know – YET! part of your vocabulary. When you truly don’t know, say it. Feel the relief. Invoke your beginner’s mind, no matter how seasoned you may be. And know that you have just opened the door to a more enlightened, and likely more impactful, outcome.

Yes, relief.

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