I'm working very hard to know nothing...

In one form or another there is a good chance you have seen the following quote if you’ve ever Googled Socrates or surfed for what seems to be an infinite number of motivational quotes —

“And in knowing that you know nothing, that makes you the smartest of all.”


You can’t but get philosophical when you spend some time thinking about this — the vastness of what you don’t know in the context of the universe is incomprehensible, and to think otherwise is at the very least limiting. More realistically though it’s just sorta stupid to believe you can actually know very much of anything; with 225 billion galaxies (and counting) how could you possibly imagine that you do? Of course you need to know things to make it through the day or maybe just to push back the insignificance that comes with 225 billion galaxies. But in the end, what you know is truly insignificant to the point of knowing nothing.

For someone who is always striving to look outside his small bubble and see things differently, I find this quote to be a simple instruction to that end (although I will admit it can be a challenge to execute on) — In knowing you know nothing you are in effect removing the blinders to improve your ability to know. It’s all very counter intuitive if you ask me.

When you allow yourself to know nothing you —

  • Tear down preconceived notions

  • Push back bias

  • Break habits

  • Push back fear

  • Ask questions to learn more

  • Understand others better

  • Consider something you have never considered before

  • Listen more and interrupt less

  • End up knowing more

As I’ve suggested this is something that doesn’t come easily for me, but I have found that if I start the day telling myself that I know nothing or start a conversation from a place where I know nothing, I find that I see and learn much more than I thought possible.

As I like to say though (with a knowing smile), I’m a work in progress.


And in knowing that you know nothing...

The Internet has attributed the following quote to Socrates —

"In knowing that you know nothing, that makes you the smartest of all"


The Chinese whispers of 2400 years offers up a fair reason to suspect if Socrates actually said this, and if he did, is this actually what he said — something to be discussed over cocktails if you are so inclined. What we do know is that on the Internet (and in motivational quotes) Socrates owns these words.

It is not my intent to try to validate Socrates true ownership of this quote or really interpret the meaning(s) behind the quote. I did however want to offer a recent epiphany of recognition that this quote is a grand reminder of how to understand situations more holistically, and where applicable, solve problems more effectively (or take advantage of opportunities for that matter).

I am working under the premise that when you truly understand a situation you are able to more effectively deal with it — and to truly understand a situation you need to look at it from different perspectives ensuring a holistic understanding. I'm also working under the premise that this can be a difficult thing to do because we are built on a foundation of knowledge, experiences, culture, and philosophies, and this has shaped who we are and how we look at things. All impacting how we do what we do.

We become limited by our own knowledge.

There are two considerations with the Socrates quote —

  1. The quote reminds us that that no matter how knowledgeable, smart or successful we are, we shouldn't transfer it into believing we know everything. Because we don't. 
  2. In reminding ourselves that we know nothing, we push back all our preconceptions and are more open to understanding situations differently — we open ourselves up to considering different perspectives and other points of view. It's easier to ask more questions when we know nothing.

We are who we are and bring it all with us... these thirteen words definitely can help us do it a little better. But what do I know?