What Do You Know?

We are trained to eliminate the phrase. “I don’t know from a very early age.” In school when they called on you, you needed to know the answer. When you are working through your career, the boss doesn’t like hearing I don’t know. And yet, when we eliminate that phrase from our vocabulary and hence our thinking we can no longer know. It is a bit of a paradox.

Think about this, If I know the answer to the question or the problem, why would I investigate any alternatives? If I am faced with a challenge and I “know” we have always done it this way, why would I look for an improvement?

So let’s look at spreadsheets as an example. Pre-spreadsheets I used to use column paper to analyze Aged Trial Balance Report ATB’s. I would pencil the numbers in manually and then get the calculator working to identify the relationships. It’s the way we had always done it.

And then one day someone said, “There has to be a better way.” And the answer was, “I don’t know, let me see.”

Are you or your business stuck in the trap of knowing all the answers?

What would you learn if you answered, “I don’t know?”

Take Good Care


  1. Early in my career I worked for 3 different companies. In these companies saying “I don’t know” was an invitation to be eaten alive. You quickly learn that you cannot say “I don’t know”. So what happens instead? You tend to make up answers that sound good. And then you justify those answers and fight for them, even though they are wrong rather than risk being found out. My fourth company, some 10 years after having been in the workplace, was a place where accuracy was much more valuable than speed. “I don’t know” by itself was still not acceptable but “I don’t know, let me find out” was a valid response. The first 3 companies all had cultures that were toxic, treated employees and customers poorly, lost money, and eventually closed their doors. The 4th company treated customers and employees well, experienced rapid growth,and was highly profitable.


    I don’t think so. You can argue that you SHOULD know the answers, but the truth is that no one knows all the answers. And pretending that you do is not good for you, the customers, or the company.

  2. Thanks Dave,

    You add a good point. The “I will find,” out is the important part of the answer. It is important to remind people to look for solutions. But to think we’ve seen it all and as a result “know” the answer is waiting for someone to ceate a better solution.

    Thanks for your contribution.

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