When I consult on innovation and transformation projects, I sometimes see teams confuse what they want to be true, or assume is true, with facts and real truth--often without knowing it.

For some, it happens when not knowing makes them feel inadequate. As though they should know everything, so they pretend they do. Others may not feel safe enough or empowered to say those three magical words to colleagues: I don't know. 

The antidote is a business approach, rooted in Amare (love in business), that: 1) gives explicit permission to not know everything, 2) encourages people to courageously say when they don't know; and 3) provides collaborative ways to get to answers. This also leads to a culture of truth-telling and more fully informed decisions. 

Consider these questions:

  • Is it acceptable to say "I don't know" in your company?

  • Does your business culture subtly encourage people to treat assumptions as facts? 

  • Are you clear within yourself about when you are assuming something is true vs. when you know it is true?

5 Amare Ways to Make "I Don't Know" a Major Asset

  1. Do an "I don't know" assessment. Compile a brief inventory of the last 10 "factual" statements you made to your team recently. Count how many were really facts, and how many were hypotheses or hopes. You can do the same with statements made publicly, as well with the thoughts in your head.

  2. Identify the underlying attitudes and expectations. Ask your people how they feel about saying "I don't know." Ask them what they imagine will happen if they do. Ask what gets in the way, and what would make it easier. Develop a supportive strategy together. Repeat with your own attitudes and expectations.

  3. Try this "Think vs Know" exercise. For a selected innovation  project, brainstorm with your team. Put assumptions and hypotheses into a "Think" bucket, and verifiable facts into a "Know" bucket. Now prioritize the top "Think" items. Do research to validate or correct them, and use the results to move forward more knowledgeably. 

  4. Enjoy wondering! After you acknowledge not knowing something, wonder out loud about what could be the truth. Add those possibilities into your collection of "Think" ideas for further consideration.

  5. Model it. As a leader, show by your words and actions that saying "I don't know" at times is healthy and desirable. When you do, share how the situation unfolds, so your people can see your transparency and the consequences. 

When you demonstrate it's okay to not know everything, you set expectations for transparency, and you model how to make better leadership and innovation decisions.