In praise of “I don’t know”

“I don’t know” is often hard to admit, and even harder to say. Professional or personal circumstances may make that even more difficult.

You may be arriving in a new environment, and be tired that “I don’t know” is every second sentence you want to say.

You may be an expert on a subject, and feel like “I don’t know” undermines your expertise.

You may worry that your “I don’t know” might be used against a larger group of people you belong to.

XKCD – How It Works

You may be afraid of repercussions of your “I don’t know” if you feel this is something that you should know.

You may have issues with imposter syndrome, and fear that “I don’t know” brings you that much closer to being exposed as a fraud (to be clear: that you are not!).

Your personal history may cause “I don’t know” to give rise to fear, anxiety, guilt, shame, or other difficult emotions in you.


But “I don’t know” is a powerful sentence, and the louder it gets, the more powerful it becomes.

Admitting “I don’t know” to yourself unlocks the possibility of learning.

Admitting “I don’t know” to select others unlocks the possibility of getting taught – and to be part of “today’s 10’000”!

XKCD – 10 Thousands

Admitting “I don’t know” to a larger audience unlocks the possibility of fostering a culture of continuous learning, where future “I don’t know”s become all the easier for everyone.

When it stems from a genuine desire to learn, “I don’t know” should be celebrated, and being the recipient of that vulnerability and trust is a privilege, regardless of one’s readiness to teach. Let’s be inspired, and celebrate that learning often starts with “I don’t know”!

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