I don’t know

When someone asks you for your thoughts on something, sometimes you’re knowledgeable about the topic and can answer confidently.

However, many times you don’t know about the topic, or even if you do your thoughts aren’t sufficiently well formed to carry valuable insights for the questioner.

What do you do in this case?

Most of the time, most people choose to feign knowledge. This comes from seeing a lack of knowledge and informed views on a specific topic as a weakness which should therefore be concealed.

While this behavior is observed most often in domains where there is significant uncertainty and therefore not a single right answer, it also takes place in domains with a clear single correct answer. Business and politics are examples of the former. The range of responses you get when asking for directions to a specific location is an example of the latter.

In fact, saying “I don’t know enough about this topic to provide an informed and valuable answer”, or simply “I don’t know” is a sign of strength, not weakness. The reason is that there are too many different subject matters and too much knowledge being continuously created within each subject matter for any one of us to know and have informed views on multiple topics.

What we don’t know is far greater than what we do.

So if someone, including yourself, never says “I don’t know” no matter what you ask them, you can be sure that some of what they’re telling you isn’t sufficiently well informed to be valuable.


Also published on Medium.