4 Things I’ve Gained from Admitting “I Don’t Know”
As a new entrepreneur, I remember believing that it was my job to know everything, especially when it came to my business. While I was always grateful for the good ideas that others gave me, I would also think self-consciously, “I should have come up with that.” I thought (foolishly), that it was important to have clear, decisive answers and to never say “I don’t know.”
Boy, was I wrong. As I soon learned, entrepreneurship is all about being a work in progress. And the more you embrace that, the more you stand to gain. Here’s a short list of benefits I’ve experienced by being comfortable with admitting—and embracing—what I don’t know.
Feigning perfection cuts you off from the most valuable resource you have: the ideas and experiences of others. Over the years, I’ve learned that my network is my biggest asset and my secret weapon—my peers and colleagues are what make my business go from good to great.
Once I realized this and became comfortable using (and crediting, of course!) the ideas of others, I began soliciting as many as I could. No, not every idea should be acted upon, but each is worth considering. When it comes to ideas, more really is more.
Being an entrepreneur can be overwhelming. The to-do list is endless and there are an infinite number of directions you can go. It’s pretty easy to get paralyzed by the sheer amount of information you’re considering at any given time. So here’s my trick: I’ve learned that defining what I don’t know can actually give me a clearer idea of where to focus my energy.
When thinking about a particular project, I divide things into two categories, the things I know and the things I don’t know. The things I know help me to stay on track and set goals. The things I don’t show me what I need to find out—and they become the beginning of my to-do list.
Learning to embrace what you don’t know forces you to get comfortable with ambiguity, and maybe even see it as a blessing. Instead of forcing all my ducks in a row before they’re ready, I take advantage of uncertainty by giving myself space to think and consider. Acknowledging what I don’t know prevents me from acting impulsively and encourages me instead to take the time to figure out the best next step.
I’ve come to recognize that it’s far more important to be confident in my ability to make good decisions than it is for me to be confident in any one answer or solution. So now, instead about worrying whether any given initiative is a the best answer or a “home run,” I instead trust that I will know when to invest more or when it’s time to pull the plug, once I have more information. And recognizing this has made it a whole lot easier to talk with others about an initiative or project I’m not sure about yet.
So don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know everything. The next time you’re asked how things are going with your company or what your plans are for the future, drop that “everything is better than ever!” party line, and share more honest feedback, including what you’re still trying to figure out. You’re likely to garner more support and ideas that way—and probably more respect, too.
Photo courtesy of Luis Alejandro Bernal Romero.
About The Author
Adelaide Lancaster is an entrepreneur, consultant, speaker, and co-author of The Big Enough Company: Creating a business that works for you (Portfolio/Penguin). She is also the co-founder of In Good Company Workplaces, a first-of-its-kind community, learning center, and co-working space for women entrepreneurs in New York City. She is also a contributor to The Huffington Post and writes The Big Enough Company blog for Forbes.com. She lives in St. Louis, MO with her husband, daughter, and son. You can follow her on Twitter here and here and on Facebook too.