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The Power of I Don't Know

https://medium.com/@williamkoehrsen/the-power-of-i-dont-know-590ab40d1995

medium.com

The Power of I Don't Know
Intellectual humility is not a weakness but a strength The phrase "I don't know" has almost disappeared from our discourse. From the job applicant who must claim to have mastered 100 different skills to politicians who need to have a confident opinion on every news event, the modern world does not encourage people to admit when they lack knowledge or skills.

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Acknowledging our ignorance

The modern world does not encourage people to admit when they lack knowledge or skills.
However, when we don't acknowledge our ignorance, we limit our chances for personal improvement.

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The Dangers of Certainty

Although we are naturally curious as children, school teaches us that there is a specific set of facts to memorize and that we should not question these facts. If we don't know something, we're taught to guess.

Once the curiosity has been driven out of us in school and we're moving into the workforce, we're even less likely to say we don't know.

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We feign certainty

We're afraid to admit when we don't know something for sure and expect not to see uncertainty in others. It can be disastrous.

Consider the case in which a business spent hundreds of millions on an ineffective advertising campaign because they refused even to ask if it was working.

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Two Kinds of "I Don’t Know"

  • The defeatist mindset: When you admit you don't know enough to do a task and think someone else should do it. Here "I don't know" is an excuse for not completing a task and prevents you from learning new skills.

  • A growth-driven mindset: When you admit that you don't know enough to do a task and respond that you don't know, but would enjoy the opportunity to learn. This attitude allows you to learn something new, possibly earn yourself a promotion, and open up more opportunities due to the new skill.

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A growth mindset

Acting on the growth-driven mindset requires the ability to see where you are now (what you don’t know), where you would like to be in the future (what you want to learn), and then forming a plan to get to your goal.

  • Admit your ignorance
  • Figure out what you want to learn
  • Make a plan to learn the skills or knowledge.
  • Execute on the plan one step at a time

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Desiring a growth-driven mindset

  • The defeatist mindset is easy and natural: You don't have to do anything and can stay in your current position.
  • The growth-driven mindset requires you to admit your shortcomings, and commit to a long-term plan. You may need to extend beyond your comfort zone.

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"I don't know"

Saying I don't know is an admission of power: You'll be wrong less often, and it will lead to more considerable improvement.

If saying "I don't know" is too difficult, rephrase it terms of intellectual humility. "I don't know how to program" becomes "Learning to program is next on my list." But being truthful is really best because you don't have to maintain a facade of lies.

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Intellectual humility

It means being actively curious about your blind spots. It’s not about lacking confidence, or self-esteem. It’s about entertaining the possibility that you may be wrong and being open to learning from the experience of others.

Why we need more intellectual humility

  1. Our culture promotes and rewards overconfidence and arrogance; 
  2. At the same time, when we are wrong — out of ignorance or error — and realize it, our culture doesn’t make it easy to admit it. Humbling moments too easily can turn into moments of humiliation.

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The humble narcissist

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Narcissist and humble leaders

Narcissists believe they're unique and superior, while humble leaders know they're flawed. 

The humble narcissist has grand ambitions but doesn't feel entitled to them. He is also willing to acknowledge his weaknesses and learn from his mistakes.

Narcissism and confidence

We're all drawn to someone who shows confidence - that is the reason that narcissists are more likely to be promoted or get elected to political office. But on its own, narcissism is dangerous. It tends to promote overconfidence and it dismisses the criticism.

Adding humility to narcissism prevents capriciousness and complacency. It helps you remember that you’re human.

Developing our strengths

Although we usually see our weaknesses as more changeable than our strengths, research shows that we should not focus on improving our weak parts, but to develop our strengths.

Identifying strengths

Try to see your strengths in relation to what energizes you. Something is a strength if: 

  • it makes you feel successful
  • you're drawn to it
  • it fully engages you
  • after doing that activity, you feel energized and fulfilled.

Ask the people around you

It's difficult for us to see our own strengths, but people around us (friends, coworkers, family members, mentors) will most likely see them clearly.

The goal is to identify things that you wouldn't have thought of on your own—or to find patterns.