‘I don’t know’. Uncertainty as a platform for growth.

When leadership is confused with the need to know everything it can lead to cultures of bluff where people feel it’s more important to give a response (including a wrong one) than acknowledge doubt.

Instead, these three simple words from a leader can establish a very different context: I don’t know.

“I don’t know” puts the focus on rigour and says many things including:

  1. Let’s not assume;
  2. We need data not anecdotes;
  3. Let’s find out.

Then why is saying it so difficult?

For one, we like to believe that certainty is possible.

This is despite knowing that many of the things we once through to be true we now know to be false (that the earth is flat or that ulcers are caused by stress, for example) and that this will most likely happen again in the future.

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Why you should doubt yourself

Therefore certainty is not only something of no use but is also in fact damaging, if we value reliability. Carlo Rovelli

We seem so desperate to know things ‘for certain’.

I think there are many reasons why.

At the nice end, ‘knowing’ is an anchor that gives us a sense of ground, even if it’s illusory. We need that. It helps us navigate ambiguity and provided we’re open to reassessing ideas as more evidence emerges or as we’re impacted by experience that’s okay.

The problem is when we attach to being certain or confuse our sense of self with being right. That’s one of the more destructive sides of being human. We need to know, to be right and then: to assert that rightness.

You see it in relationships where people who loved each other wake up one day to find that they have dug trenches around that need and created a no-man’s land instead of a life between them.

Or on the contrary, when we cling to an earlier idea about the other, who or what they should be (our idea of them really) refusing to recognize that we, or they, or circumstances, have changed.

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