Learn When Not To Know

Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.

I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing. – Socrates

Pursue knowledge, daily gain
Pursue Tao, daily loss
– Lao Tzu

One of the best practices for self-mastery we can do is to learn when not to know something. Deliberately not-knowing prevents blunders. It prevents the stories we tell ourselves when our expectations for success rested upon shaky assumptions. It allows us to open ourselves up to the genius of other people and gives them an opportunity to be rockstars rather than standing off stage. And it enriches what we do know.

By deliberately not-knowing, I mean learning to entertain the possibility that what you believe may not be true or that the core assumptions you have may no longer be valid. Or to not settle on any belief or the other. Or that there are alternative and valid perspectives on whatever you’re considering.

Here are a few instances when it’s good to not know:

  • When the outcomes of what you’re doing really matter
  • When you’re meeting someone for the first time
  • When you’re integrating a new teammate
  • When you’re entering a new field, career, or market
  • When you need to know what your customers or market thinks
  • When someone else has a lot invested in knowing more than you do
  • When you’re arguing with someone you care about
  • When your industry is either disrupted or is undergoing continual disruption
  • When you need to let go of something
  • When you can’t do anything with what you know
  • When you’re in a different cultural context
  • When you’re not sure whether you locked the door

Whenever you feel the strongest pull to be certain, then is when you’re best off to not know and approach it from a place of curiosity and openness.

Being comfortable with what you know shows your intelligence; being comfortable with not knowing shows your character. (Click to tweet this – thanks!)

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  1. says

    I completely agree. This happens to me a lot of time with my 6 years old kid. Not one but many times I have been sent into “not knowing” zone by him with his masterful yet innocent advice.

    The “not knowing” quality is also important in family setting because that’s where all our authority and knowledge comes into play often – when it’s needed the least.

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