So many people, Ray Dalio says, often make bad decisions because they’re absolutely sure they’re right. Successful people, Dalio says—and Dalio is a super successful billionaire, hedge fund manager, thought leader, author of Principles, philanthropist and more—know that asking the right questions to other smart people is as important as having all the right answers. This is an idea similar to the Talmud’s saying that the question of a wise person is half the answer.
When you’re in the space of not knowing something, you are open to limitless possibilities of discovery and learning. “The more I learn,” Einstein said, “The more I realize I don’t know.” With all due respect to Einstein, I prefer to put it as, “The more I realize I don’t know, the more I learn.” When we know something, we put an end to the process of discovery in that particular area. When we consider ourselves experts in something, our learning slows to a trickle. Children learn so quickly not because they are more intelligent than adults, but because they recognize the gaps in their knowledge and experience an urgency to understand what others are saying and how to communicate with them. Not knowing is the space of curiosity, humility, and openness; the more I realize I don’t know, the more I learn.
Think about it: when you ask someone how they are, are you genuinely curious about their well-being, or are you simply making small talk while impatiently moving the conversation forward? And how might the question land if the other could sense your genuine desire to know how they’re doing?
When you ask an employee or team member something about the work they’re doing, do they sense your humility and curiosity, making them feel like the expert they are or should be?
When sharing perspectives or debating ideas, are you genuinely open to how you could possibly be wrong or what you might not know? Because the more we realize we don’t know, the more we learn.
It’s tragic that our educational system is built on students having to have the “right” answers and being shamed if they acknowledge their ignorance—even in the age of Google and big data when having answers is no longer much of a competitive edge. But what might our graduates look like if they were schooled more in how to live in the space of not knowing and how to architect powerful questions that lead to bold, new solutions?
Finding an answer is not the end of a quest. To the real inquirer, the answer to one question is simply the springboard for the next one. And in this way, the mind springs from one discovery to the next. Discoveries don’t have to be discoveries for humankind. Even if I discover something I didn’t know before, that newfound knowledge is fresh, vital, and authentic to me in ways that learning data by rout cannot be.
Similarly, saying “I don’t know” should never be the end of an inquiry, nor should it be an excuse for ignorance. “I don’t know” should always be followed by “But what if?” or “But who could I ask?” By asking a good question, we can gain some wisdom. And we need to keep asking good questions about what we don’t know, because the more our mind inquiries, the more we learn.