The Importance of Knowing That You Don’t Know Everything

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“The more I know, the more I know that I know nothing.”

This quote, which is based on Socrates’ famous saying, “I know that I know nothing,” accompanied me throughout my four-year apprenticeship as a computer scientist. In today’s information age, it is impossible to know everything. More importantly, one must know that it is not necessary to know everything. However, this does not mean that knowledge is not worth knowing.

Picture of a greek ruin

During my first year of apprenticeship, my main tasks included answering the phones, greeting customers, taking note of their problems, and ideally solving them. Due to my curious nature, I tried to solve every issue, which often led to spending up to an hour on the phone with clients.

Picture of a phone

At the end of my first year, a communication coach visited us for training in email, meeting, and phone communication. One key point from the coach that has stuck with me is that clients do not only want their problem solved; they want their problem to be acknowledged.

This realisation meant that I did not have to solve the customer’s issue on the phone directly.

Instead, I could say, “Dear customer, I have taken note of your problem and will look into it. I will contact you as soon as I have a solution or need more information.”

This approach allowed the customer to move on to their core business quickly, and saved me time by enabling me to prioritise tasks independently. Moreover, since I had written down the task, I could easily delegate it to a colleague if needed.

It’s important however that the customer doesn’t stop trusting you to get the things done they have asked for, about which I have had an experience from the other side as a customer myself.

During my second year as an apprentice, I had an opposite experience as a customer when I had to send my phone for repair. I sent the phone in but heard nothing from the company.

Picture of broken samsung phone

When I called on Monday, the support person on the phone told me they would call back on Friday with a solution. Friday evening came, and there was no call. I called again the following Monday, spoke to a different person who knew nothing about the issue, and was promised another callback on Friday. You can imagine what happened next.

I no longer purchase products from that company.

In my third year, I had the opportunity to take on projects independently for the first time. This responsibility meant attending kickoff meetings with clients. At one such meeting, a client asked me a question out of the blue, and I did not know the answer.

A meeting room

I responded: “I don’t know the answer, but I know where to find it. I will contact you once I have figured it out and provide you with the relevant project information via email.

In my fourth and final year, I learned my last lesson. As the only senior apprentice, I had built up a certain level of knowledge and thought I knew everything. But when I tried to show something to a junior apprentice and it didn’t work, I was baffled.

Picture of people working together

After searching the internet and trying to figure out the error, I was stumped. Suddenly, the junior apprentice tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Robin, you forgot a semicolon.”

That was my final lesson: everyone knows something I don’t or sees something I can’t.

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