The Power Of “I Don’t Know”

I really have NO idea - do you?

There are three little words that are often hidden away – afraid to be exposed to the light of day. They’re easy to say, hard to admit, and immensely powerful. These potentially magical words are quite simply – “I don’t know”.

It Creates a Chain Reaction

When we use the words “I don’t know” it starts a chain reaction that can propel us forward.

It creates a chain reaction
  1. It opens our mind to learning something new.
  2. It creates a possibility, and a curiousity to explore unknown territory. Like Star Trek – it can take us places where we’ve never gone before.
  3. It provides an opportunity for others to contribute and share their own value, expertise, knowledge and resources. It breaks down walls and silos, and facilitates collaboration and co-creation, to arrive at a destination we could never have imagined on our own.
  4. It releases us from a delusion that we’re in control, or have things under control – so we can actually start to get real about the fact that life just isn’t that predictable, and that there’s very little we actually know for sure. Even if we did know the answer yesterday, that answer may have become obsolete overnight as we slept comfortably in our beds.
  5. We start to explore and challenge assumptions and beliefs – to actively test them, as opposed to jumping in like a bull at a gate, or unnecessarily writing off an opportunity.
  6. The honesty and vulnerability that comes with saying these words contributes to building trust, and deeper connections.

Why Don’t We Admit When We Don’t Have The Answer?

So, given the power within these words – why are they rarely even whispered?

More often than not it’s because we feel we have something to prove, to ourself or others. Maybe we have the status of “expert” and feel we need to have the answer to retain that status. Perhaps it’s because we’re protecting our ego, don’t want to look dumb, and we feel that we must know or at least pretend to know, to justify our position. Hey, we’re all human.

Knowledge vs Creativity – What Wins?

The truth is, in this day and age, knowledge is not as powerful as it once was. It’s almost a commodity. It’s incredible what we can Google, or who we can connect with anywhere in the world in an instant who may know more than us on any given topic, in any given moment.

What’s more valuable now is the power to create, connect, to question, to not only find solutions – but find the problems worth solving.

An opportunity to grow and create.

If you’re not saying “I don’t know” at least once or twice a week, there’s a reasonably high chance that you’re either taking yourself far too seriously; or simply not stretching the limits for yourself, your team, or your business.

Plus, if you’re not getting any “I don’t knows” from your team – they’re either too afraid to admit it, or you’re not stretching them enough. Either way, it’s a wonderful opportunity as a leader to dial up on your question asking and leadership skills.

Caution – There Are Three Caveats

  1. Don’t over use “I don’t know” (you’ll lose all credibility), and
  2. When you do use these three little words – follow them up with, “but we’ll find out”, or “what if”.
  3. Recognise and reward team members who are willing to admit when they don’t know, and then take the action to explore and find an answer or solution.


If you really want to move your business forward start exposing yourself and your team to more situations and more questions where you have no idea of the answer, and don’t be afraid to admit it.

You could even put a goal around it – two “I don’t knows” from you and each of your team each week. Go on, give it a go – it’s OK, it’s even empowering to admit – “I don’t know”.

What’s one question that you don’t have the answer to right now that if answered it, it could potentially create a real shift in your business?

Lisa McCarthy
Lisa shares the most simple, powerful and proven tips and strategies that have helped her add hundreds of thousands of dollars to the bottom line for owners of small businesses as a business coach. She has been a business owner herself for many years working across three continents - as a licensee, franchisee, and independent business owner. In a former life she has created and led start up programmes for entrepreneurs, and held senior leadership roles in the world of finance, banking and insurance.


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