The Greek philosopher Socrates was a frightening man and was put to death because of it. But, it is not what you might be thinking. He never said he had all the answers. On the contrary, he said he didn’t.
His crime was questioning the “truth” being put forth by those in power. And, encouraging his students to do the same. He threatened the power elite and was killed because of it.
I am the expert, ask me and I will give you the answer.
Power elitists exist in all walks of life—politics, academia, business, the arts—everywhere. They all believe they have the answers to every question asked them. By extension, they believe their answer is the truth of the matter.
How often have you attended a lecture, a presentation, a speech or convention and heard one of the experts answer, “I don’t know” when asked a question? I will venture to say—almost never.
Giving these experts a little more slack then maybe they deserve, they believe their audience wants answers. So, rather than being viewed as “not a real expert”, they supply an answer—any answer.
Where they go wrong is in confusing what their listeners want with what they need. They want an answer, but what they need is the truth.
Instead, what people need is a rare honest person who cares more about truth than being liked. It actually means answering the majority of the questions with, “I don’t know. How can I know that? You need to seek the truth elsewhere.”
Why this matters to you.
I spend the majority of my time helping business owners, managers and executives grow successful businesses.
I have seen significant proof that there is an inverse relationship between success in business and success in business school.
Those armed with degrees from the most prestigious business schools are frequently the ones struggling most with running a business. They often state, “I didn’t learn this in school” when shown how to hire, fire, sell, market, or deal with stakeholders.
Frankly, business school professors who profess to have answers for everything often know very little. But, that unfortunately does not stop them from teaching students how to do lots of things that are not very useful.
Remember, Socrates’ story has been repeated over and over because he was an honest man who above all knew he didn’t have the answers and sought the truth. In Socrates, we see his self-acknowledged ignorance as a virtue.
All too often, people want “experts” to always have the answers, solutions and shortcuts. I would like to put forward the notion that instead of expecting “experts” to always supply the answer, we ask them to display Socratic humility and let us know they don’t know.
In the meantime, if your audience, your team, your customers expect you to have all the answers, become instead the one who says, “I don’t know!”.
I suggest you put into practice what I call “the art of ignorance”.
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