Why do we ever say “I don’t know”

When I was trained to be a tour guide I was told never to say “I don’t know”: I should rather make up dates, names, stories.


So I did, without feeling much remorse.


Making up things didn’t matter because the people who asked me didn’t really want to know. They wanted to feel safe and comfortable to have a guide who even knows the names of trees, birds, medieval kings and has a story of every church we pass.


Knowing all the answers made me more charismatic and more of a leader. I realized that you always give the right answer when you know more than your conversational partner.


Then, this way of thinking became part of my private time too.

– Do you know why these villages have Hungarian names?

– Because at least 20% of the population is Hungarian.

– Really?

– …I have no idea. Sorry.


Knowing the answer became my second nature and since I knew all the answers all those people trying to research this and that seemed silly. “Why would you take so much effort to understand something more when I know all about it, anyways!?”

Arrogant? Yes. Very arrogant.


Slowly, as I put my tour leader training into a bit of perspective I began to understand that saying “I don’t know” is perfectly fine – as long as you know the answer to the important questions. Even more, saying “I don’t know” gives you credibility.

(And saying I don’t know with the right intonation can mean that the question makes no sense.)


We are expected to have an opinion on a wide range of topics.

We are taught in school about chemistry, biology, math, literature, etc.

We should know practical things like bus schedules, when to change oil in our car, how and where to drill in the wall, etc.

We should know a bit about shoe brands, phones, computers, calories, healthy eating, etc.

Then come daily politics, wars on far-away continents and countries (that you know nothing about), fashion, cars, climate change, health care, education and whatever the news say.


All the things I’ve become successful is thanks to elimination. Eliminating distractions (and the superficial knowledge that they carry) is a key element. I’m writing this article because I don’t know what’s on the news today. I’m not trying to figure out ways how to look more muscular, make more money or look fashionable. I’m not reading about the 10 fastest growing companies in America, not listening to music and the TV is off.

And that’s all right. I want to write this article because it fits into my goals.

And if you want to do something in life, if you have a goal – just take actions that will fit into your “life-strategy”.



The ability to say “I don’t know this” is a common trait of highly intelligent people.

“[…] Simply saying ‘I don’t know’ isn’t a solution,” […] “It’s just a first step. You have to figure out what you don’t know — and then work like a dog to learn.”*

[…] The alternative — feigning knowledge [is] counterproductive.

“It might keep your job for another week or another month, it might make people think you are good, but that’s not the point,” […] “Really, the goal is to be good and to improve and to learn and to make things better. And the only way to do that is to start by saying, ‘I don’t know.'”

* I’ll work like a dog to learn it’s it important to know






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