‘I Don’t Know’ Is One Of The Smartest Things You Can Say

‘I Don’t Know’ Is One Of The Smartest Things You Can Say

When it comes to our brains, black is white and up is down. Any time we try to achieve a desired result, we end up doing the opposite. Such is the case with trying to be smart. We like to come off as intelligent, and so we often act like we know more than we do to achieve that effect. In reality, however, saying “I don’t know” can be a whole lot smarter.

Photo by Suzanne Tucker (Shutterstock).

Aside from the obvious downside of people finding out that you don’t really know as much as your purport, CD Baby founder Derek Sivers explains another advantage of just being honest:

Being stupid means avoiding thinking by jumping to conclusions. Jumping to a conclusion is like quitting a game: you lose by default. That’s why saying “I don’t know” is usually smart, because it’s refusing to jump to a conclusion.

On top of that, not knowing something is rarely a downside. It gives you a chance to learn something new, and people love to share knowledge because it makes them feel important. Even when you think you know the answer, don’t be afraid to ask for more information or listen to someone else’s opinion. There’s always an opportunity to learn.

Smart people don’t think others are stupid [Derek Sivers]


    • There are no such things as stupid questions, only stupid people; who don’t ask questions.

      Also intelligence is not what you know, but what you do when you don’t know.

  • And yet, we praise people (rightly) when they can jump to the *right* conclusions on seemingly insufficient data.
    Saying “I don’t know” is most valuable when it prompts people to fill that gap of knowledge.

    Not to mention, the article says (and is entitled) “smart people don’t think others are stupid”. It’s basically saying we shouldn’t pigeon-hole, stereotype, insufficiently analyse.

    I make a point of exposing myself to “Fundies Say The Darndest Things” every now and then, like a memetic inoculation. It’s simplistic to say “nope, right there is a perfect example of smart people saying that *those* people are stupid”. But it’s also ultimately *accurate* – there are people whose quotes end up on that site regularly; they’ve been informed of the inaccuracy or untruth of their positions. And boy, do we understand *why* they’re saying those things. Because they are, quite frankly, resistant to any concept that wasn’t drummed into their heads already.

    A comment like “smart people don’t think others are stupid” is just as blanket, stereotyped, pigeon-holed – and frankly, *stupid* – as the very people they’re trying to criticise. Furthermore, they don’t seem to possess the self-awareness to perceive that contradiction.

    If you can’t spot stupid people, you don’t see the people who need extra education or help; or, if they refuse to learn, to be avoided. If political correctness like this keeps getting in the way of genuine perception and analysis, we’re doomed.

    Alright – *more* doomed.

    • Finally.. someone offering an actual useful opinion/piece of advice rather than taking a web article as a personal affront to their intelligence (see the above comments). Thank you.

      • “Saying “I don’t know” is most valuable when it prompts people to fill that gap of knowledge.”

        “you don’t see the people who need extra education or help”

        … did you miss those bits?

    • THIS!. I’ve been working hard to train the staff I’m mentoring to not ask for a solution but to ask advice. But only after they’ve come up with a solution on their own. This way they can present the problem and their solution (or two) to superiors and management sees a person who comes with solutions instead of problems.

      We provide the potential solutions and management can make the decisions.

      • Yes, I wouldn’t dream of going to my boss and saying “What the hell do I do?”. I always go in and say something like “Can I chat with you for a few minutes”. I present the problem and what I think should be done about it. If your solution happens to be “wrong”, it’s usually only because the management knows something that they haven’t let on yet. You will get a response something like “Don’t do that as we are going to roll-out xyz”. A great way to get an insight into what’s happening above your level.

      • “Coming up with a solution of their own” is skipping the “I don’t know” and actually supplying an answer.

        Why would they need to ask for advice if they’ve already come up with a solution?

  • I hate not knowing something when the person asking assumes I do. A question indicates that the asking party assumes (1) you have the answer (2) you’re prepared to give it. That said, I often claim that I don’t know or I can’t remember or I can’t be sure, when I really mean, ‘I’m not telling you.’

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