Hard to say—but very important
One thing Iâve learned at Buffer is that being open to not knowing things seems to be the best way to learn quickly and teach others at the same time. So many of our biggest hits on the blog have come from saying, âWe donât know the answer. Letâs find out!â
On many matters, we havenât any authority.
Is this an OK way to get by?
Weâve found great success in not knowing, and thereâs no reason why you canât, too. While we can certainly see the value in establishing yourself as an authority in your industry, being the answer-man or answer-woman isnât the be-all, end-all of your options.
You can survive and thrive by embracing âI donât know.â
Hereâs what weâve learned so far.
The leading authorities on not knowing
An interesting phenomenon occurs when youâve been not knowing things for as long as we have. You become an authority on not knowing.
That seems to be the case here at the Buffer blog. Weâd like nothing more than to be known as a go-to source for social media content. When you think about social media, weâd love for you to think of us!
At the same time, we understand that we may not be authorities on everything social mediaâwe may not have all the answers right away, near at hand.
And that seems to be alright.
Instead of being authorities on social media, we can be authorities on thorough research, fascinating statistics, and personal experience. In other words, there is more than one way to cement yourself in the minds of your followers beyond traditional authority. If we can earn a reputation as a go-to source for social media content by embracing what we donât know, then the opportunityâs there for you to do the same.
If you arenât able to claim authority in your chosen field, you can still seek after a subset of authority. You can be an authority on:
- Writing with humor
- Having an awesome voice and tone
- Sharing your data
- Curating ideas and curating content
Find whatever it is youâre good at, and become the best you can be. Soon enough, your Facebook and your Twitter and your blog will be known for the quality, exceptional work you do, regardless of what it is that you donât know.
So maybe authority means more than expertise, influence, and confidence. If we expand our definition, we can each find our own path to authority, however it may look.
Impostor syndrome: We all feel like we donât have all the answers
Iâve had moments where I wasnât sure I was cut out for my job. Have you had these moments, too?
Weâre not alone. Psychologists call this impostor syndrome, and it applies to those of us who are unable to internalize accomplishments. Despite outward evidence that weâre great at what we do, weâre convinced that weâre frauds and undeserving of our place.
This level of âI Donât Knowâ is more common than you might think. The term has been around since the 1970s, and researchers believe that up to 70 percent of people have felt the effects of impostor syndrome at some point.
If youâre interested in finding out if you have any characteristics of impostor syndrome, you can take the Clance Impostor Scale survey and see where you land. For each statement in the survey, you mark how true it is of you. For example,
- I tend to remember the incidents in which I have not done my best more than those times I have done my best.
- I often compare my ability to those around me and think they may be more intelligent than I am.
- At times, I feel my success has been due to some kind of luck.
Part and parcel of impostor syndrome is the feeling of not knowingâthe lack of expertise that weâve been talking about so far. Via the Crew blog, here is a simple illustration that shows how impostor syndrome feels:
In the same Crew blog post, Andrea Ayres explains what the manifestations of impostor syndromemight look like, how people may compensate for feeling like a fraud. Do either of these sound familiar to you, whether youâve done them yourself or witnessed them from colleagues?
Overdoing: When people prepare to an almost obsessive level, putting in much more effort than is realistically needed in order to ensure they donât fail
Underdoing: People will under prepare or put off doing something until the last minute so they can blame any possible failures on a lack of readiness, as opposed to their actual ability. If you donât really try you canât really fail, right?
Of course, neither of these outcomes is preferable. Overdoing will lead to pressure and burnout; underdoing will lead to poor quality and performance.
With the prevalence of impostor syndrome being as great as it is, there must be a better way to survive and thrive while feeling like you donât have all the answers. Hereâs one way that weâve found.
Giving yourself permission to not know it all
I believe part of the reason for the pressures of impostor syndrome is that there is a stigma around not knowing something. If you feel like an impostor because you donât have all the answers, itâs because somewhere along the line you learned that itâs best to have all the answers all the time.
Not only is this impossible, it might not even be the best way to go about it.
Iâm fortunate to work at a place that embraces the âI donât know.â Bufferâs values highlight the fact that itâs okay to not have all the answers. We phrase this in terms of curiosity, improvement, listening, and humility.
Here are some choice phrases pulled from our Buffer culture slide deck:
You take the approach that everything is a hypothesis and you could be wrong
You approach new ideas thinking, âWhat can we do right now?â
You are suggestive rather than instructive, replacing phrases such as âcertainlyâ and âundoubtedlyâ with âperhaps,â âI think,â and âmy intuition right nowâ
You seek first to understand, then to be understood
Does your company share this belief? Iâd be interested to hear which perspective your work takes on the matter of authority and knowledge.
It certainly helps to have an employer so openly embrace the idea of not knowing. And at the same time, there is power in the individual assertion that you donât have to know it all. Even if your company isnât outspoken on the matter, you can change your personal philosophy and give yourself a break from chasing authority. You may find this new mindset refreshing, among the many other benefits of embracing the power of âI donât know.â
3 incredible effects of embracing what you donât know
âI donât knowâ and trust
Jason Freedman of 42 Floors shared a story about a competitive hiring process where one of the key deciding factors for the candidate was Freedmanâs openness about not knowing an answer. When Freedman said, âI donât know,â the candidate was sold. Hereâs the reason why:
When people say I donât know, it lends credibility to everything else that theyâve said.
Think about someone who always seems to have an answer for everything. Youâve maybe wondered along the way if he or she really could know all this stuff, right? But when you admit to not knowing, you give power to the things you do know. People learn to trust your responses to questions and to know they can get an honest answer from you at all times.
âI donât knowâ and innovation
Stay hungry, stay foolish
This quote from entrepreneur Sahar Hashemi plays off the idea of embracing the power of âI donât knowâ as it relates to curiosityâa key to innovation. Hashemi believes that being clueless and curious is essential to entrepreneurship. Without it, you no longer dream, tinker, and ask âwhy not.â In this way, knowing too much can actually be a detriment.
âI donât knowâ and creativity
Would you hire someone with little experience in your industry? Common sense might say no; however, some would argue that inexperience might be just the thing a company needs.
Nils SkÃ¶ld writes about this idea on Medium, telling how a lack of knowledge can actually be an ideal way to spur creativity and think outside the norms of an industry. Have you experienced anything similar to this?
My theory is this: when you know everything about an industry, you donât know whats good for it. What an industry needs is people who have no idea on how it operates. People that donât know that there are any rules. While it is good to break rules and to push boundaries, itâs much better to just never know that any rules exists.
Our key to not knowing: âWe donât know the answer. Letâs find out!â
In our experience, thereâs a bit more to the matter of not knowing than simply embracing our lack of knowledge.
Weâd be sunk if we stopped at âI donât know.â Thatâs why we follow up by finding out.
Much of our blog content comes from experience. We hunt for answers to our questions (and your questions!) and we report back with what we find.
What we lack in authority on social media, we make up for by seeking input from our audience in chats and conversations and by approaching our social updates with a curious, open attitude.
Embracing âI donât knowâ is an opportunity to discover. Weâve found that having an attitude of improvement, experimentation, and curiosity makes it such that thereâs no need to worry about not knowing this or that.
If we donât know, weâll find out.
Over to you: In what ways has not knowing benefited you?
Having authority in your industry is great, but it isnât the be-all, end-all for growth. You can enjoy authority in many number of different ways from being the expert of experts to being the expert of your unique perspective.
Weâve embraced the power of âI donât know,â and weâve seen the benefits for trust, innovation, creativity, discovery, and so much more.
If you liked this post, you might also like The Beginnerâs Guide to Putting the Internet to Work for You: How to Easily Save 60 Minutes Every Day and The Big List of IFTTT Recipes: 34 Hacks for Hardcore Social Media Productivity.