The Power of "I don't know"

In our world where influencers are giving advice nonstop on social media and many people seem to know more than us, we may feel like we have to be "know it all." The reality is that in this fast moving, dynamic, and competitive world, it is very hard for someone to know it all.

In my view, in the realm of leadership, admitting "I don't know" can be one of the most powerful and transformative phrases a leader can use. Admitting "I don't know" is the same as "I know what I know, and I also know what I don't know." This is an extremely important trait for leaders, builders, and entrepreneurs. To be sure, admitting "I don't know" does not mean an excuse for not doing the work and not learning. It is the opposite.

Embracing "I don't know" is authentic. In general, authenticity builds trust.

Embracing "I don't know" demonstrates self-awareness and healthy dose of humility.

Embracing "I don't know" helps avoid blind spots and bias.

Embracing "I don't know" reflects open-mindedness and a desire to learn.

In entrepreneurship, one of the most important traits of founders and management team is to be able to say: "this is what we know and this is what we don't know or we are not sure about" rather than pretending to know everything. The latter generally leads to a disaster in high-stake situations. And one of the biggest red flags in founders and startup hiring is when someone with little experience comes off as the "know it all." This is less of an issue in larger companies because there is already an engine humming and more redundancy so embracing this trait tends to be less important.

In investing, one of the most important traits, in my view, is also understanding the the perimeters of current knowledge. For example, I get asked almost every day where I am investing in GenAI. My answer is I don't know yet or I am not sure yet. I have some hypotheses but I don't have an answer yet because I think the market is early. But I am reading and learning 7 days a week.

I have 7 mentees this summer from the Sponsors of Educational Opportunities. This is one of the advice I will give my mentees. They don't know everything, and that is OK. What matters is acknowledging what they don't know, what they do know, and what they are doing to work hard, learn, and contribute in substantive ways to the organization.

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