Do You Know The Luxury of Not Having to Know Everything?

Never underestimate the luxury of being able to not know something.

For example, you’re in a business meeting and somebody asks about some acronym you’ve never heard of. The right answer is:

I don’t know what that acronym means. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard it before. Maybe you can tell me, or give me some context?

Too often, though, people think something they don’t know is something they are supposed to know. So they fake it. They work around it, pretend to know, guess, or stumble.

I learned years after getting an MBA degree that one of the unexpected benefits was the luxury of not knowing something. Which leads to the luxury of being able to just ask. “I don’t know” is very freeing.

tour busHere’s another way of explaining it. When I was young I guided two around-the-world groups for a travel agency.

The first time around, I feared having one of the tourists ask me something I didn’t know. I was supposed to have been to these places before, and with most of them, I hadn’t. And that was nerve wracking. There are about 50 churches between the airport and the hotel in any European city. People would start asking names of churches as soon as we got off the highway into town. And I didn’t know.

The second time around, when we’d go through the neighborhoods towards the hotel , I had the luxury of saying “I don’t know” when I was asked about some random church along the way. “It’s not one of the major ones,” I would add, knowing at least that it wasn’t on the tour.

I was reminded of this last week when I read a good post called 5 Surprising Traits Of Successful Entrepreneurs by Adelaide Lancaster on Huffington Post. Number one on that list is:

Ability to admit (comfortably and openly) what they don’t know.

Amen to that. Occasionally I run into one of those people who seems pressured to know everything. They can never just exhale and not know. I’m sure that’s a hard way to live.

(Image: lierne via Flickr CC)


  • Manon Leroux says:

    How refreshing…have been their and YES have tried to come across as knowing it all! To soon realized that I now stop myself from attempting new things because of the fear to look “inexperienced/unprofessional” not a good recipe for success! great post will think back at this next time I am faced with something new /unknown! TY

  • William Ball says:

    Tim, I find that the older I get, the easier it is to ask for info when I don’t know something. One of my favorite bumper stickers is the one that proclaims: “Ask a teenager, they know everything.” I’m sure that I am not the only one who has made a fool of himself by blurting out a stupid answer.

  • Charles Robinson says:

    I love to learn so I say “I don’t know” a lot. It is often followed by “let’s find out.” 🙂

  • Fred @ says:

    This is such an important lesson to learn. When I was a young law firm associate, I thought I couldn’t say, “I don’t know.” But, work became much easier and I was able to provide better legal support to my clients, once I finally admitted to not knowing everything.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *