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Gus Van Horn blog

Reblogged:When You Don't Have the Answer...

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Author/Entrepreneur Derek Sivers writes that being a "very slow thinker" can make one look stupid to others:

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I'm a disappointing person to try to debate or attack. I just have nothing to say in the moment, except maybe, "Good point." Then a few days later, after thinking about it a lot, I have a response.

This probably makes me look stupid in the moment, but I don't mind. I'm not trying to win any debates.

In fact, I'll tell you a secret. For most of those interviews at sivers.org/i, they sent me their questions a week in advance. I'd spend hours writing down answers from different perspectives, before choosing the most interesting one. Then once we were in a live conversation, I'd try to make it sound spontaneous. [bold added, links omitted]
While I haven't compared my own thinking speed with his, I know exactly what he means: Admit that you need more information or time to answer a question, and sometimes, people will assume you're an idiot. I found this to be especially true in the military, but that was long ago: I have probably since learned how to handle the situation better, such as by saying something like, "I don't have the answer now, but I'll get back to you later." Sivers is right to point out that it's fine to say something like that up front, and I appreciate his point that it would be a good thing if more people would do this, rather than needlessly endure unearned embarrassment.

That said, making such an admission requires confidence. Part of that comes from knowing what one's purpose is and is not. And part comes from the practice of resisting pressure from others to spout out an answer one isn't sure of.

-- CAV

P.S. This is related to one of many excellent points Alex Eptsein makes in the second lecture of his excellent Human Flourishing Project: There is indeed no need to have an opinion about any claim to knowledge one has immediately upon hearing it.

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