I’m a podcast junkie. I started with health and fitness podcasts but quickly expanded my library to include a wide range of shows. I listen while I drive, while I exercise, and sometimes while I cook or do chores. I still can’t make the leap into audiobooks, but I have very much enjoyed the opportunities to learn while engaged in other tasks.
This week I listened to an episode of the Freakonomics Radio Podcast. Many of you are likely familiar with the book Freakonomics and its authors Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner. The podcast is billed as “telling stories about cheating schoolteachers and eating champions while teaching us all to think a bit more creatively, rationally, and productively.” I like this podcast because each episode is on a wildly different topic, is short, and is never boring.
The episode I linked to above is titled “The Three Hardest Words in the English Language”, and this concept is explored in more detail in their newly published book Think Like a Freak. It took a while to get to what the words were. I’ll spare you that agony here, they are: I Don’t Know.
As soon as I heard that it was like lightning going off in my brain. I immediately resonated with this because it’s something I struggled with mightily in my first few jobs after college. The podcast discussed the implications of this in children and in the business world, but I think it’s a cultural phenomenon that affects all of us. It’s incredibly scary to admit that you don’t know something, and it can be a blow to your ego.
In my first few jobs I would get confronted with situations where I knew I might have been trained on how to handle them, but couldn’t remember the preferred method or procedure. Instead of asking for help, my instinct was to act like I knew and wing it. Fortunately this worked in a majority of cases, but there were a few times where my work suffered and I had to admit later that I wasn’t confident in that task. I’ve found that it’s much more comfortable to admit your lack of knowledge at the start, get assistance, and move on.
When I started my first library job I committed myself to this principle, and had far fewer moments where I felt out of my depth. Saying “I Don’t Know” is crucial to receiving feedback and ultimately growing as a person or professional. Recognizing and reflecting on moments where we say “I Don’t Know” is a practice that can help us to recognize patterns in our work and to discern areas of potential improvement in our skill sets. These moments have become sparser as I move past one year of service in my current position, but I have learned to appreciate them when they come.