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My mind has been wandering this week, thinking about decisions and feeling like I need to have all the answers. I started wondering–What could be more stressful than not knowing the answer to an important question or issue?  I decided that even worse than the anxiety of not knowing something is not knowing and feeling that you have to hide that you don’t know it.

We often assume that a leader (and farmers are leaders of their farms, after all) needs to know all the answers. If they don’t know, they give their best guess as if it were fact, as confidently as they can.

Interestingly, more than 20 years ago, psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger demonstrated that when people knew very little about a topic or situation, they were very likely to over-assess their knowledge and ability. Ignorance equals overconfidence. Ignorance also equals lots of mistakes.

So, one thing that I’ve been trying to do more of lately is admit when I don’t know something. It’s hard. Because of my gray hair and years of experience, I often feel like I should know all the answers to everything.

But that’s silly. No one knows everything.  So I am working hard to not fake it, and simply say “I don’t know—let me look into it (or learn more, or think about it, or ask someone.)”

I find this is doing two really good things. First, it reduces my stress a bunch, because I don’t have to pretend to have all the answers all the time. Second, it gives the people around me permission to say “I don’t know” too instead of bluffing their way through things.

On a farm, when someone works with you or for you, you have to really trust them.  If you show that it’s ok to say “I don’t know, let me find out” then they don’t have to pretend they know something and make a mistake—sometimes a BIG mistake that could cost your farm a lot of money or time.

If you want a farm and a family where finding the right answer is valued more than faking the right answer—if you want a farm where people have actual competence and not just confident ignorance—then try saying “I don’t know” more and encouraging those around you to do the same.

“I don’t know” is another one of those helpful phrases that can keep you thriving. Here is a great video by David Burkus on The Power of “I Don’t Know”   Enjoy!

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