The Concept Of Answerlessness


Einstein once remarked:

“I keep the subject of my inquiry constantly before me, and wait till the first dawning opens gradually, by little and little, into a full and clear light.”

Well, just like Physics, life is a subject of inquiry too. But, most of us are uncomfortable in handling complex questions about life. 

A few examples of such questions:

  1. Why does that person behave in such a manner with me?
  2. Who is right: my wife or my mom?
  3. Why is my competitor’s business doing so well?
  4. Why I keep on getting rejected in interviews?
  5. What does my kid not like studying at all?

Answers to most such questions elude us. We become uncomfortable with this answerlessness. Hence, we make one of these 2 mistakes: either denial or faulty diagnosis

Example of Denial:

  1. The residents of a new housing society realize that the builder has not given good finishing in the apartments. But they feel that this is such a big problem that they do not know how to get it fixed from the builder. So, they make an easy choice–they refuse to acknowledge that the problem even exists.

Example of faulty diagnosis:

  1. Your competitor’s business is doing pretty well but yours is struggling. You are not able to understand why. You settle for a quick explanation that your competitor must be playing by using unfair means (e.g. bribing key influencers, not paying taxes, etc.) or having some unique advantage (e.g. having lot of surplus funds, etc.).

Well, those who have can handle their answerlessness well, are able to avoid the above 2 mistakes.

Eventually, they reach the right answers–thereby gaining a much better understanding of life.

A personal example:

I used to have reasonably good articulation until 2011. But, as I left professional consulting in 2011 and started advising entrepreneurs, I started loosing my articulation. Surprisingly, this decline came along with a marked improvement in my cognition and judgment.

I was perplexed. I was now being better able to understand and judge complex situations, but was finding it increasingly difficult to articulate my thoughts to others!

In this situation, the best thing I did was to handle my answerlessness well: I did not deny my situation, and I also did not settle for a hasty answer.

After 4 years, the answer dawned upon me:

I had been quite sensitive as a kid, and hence my intuition had always been strong. I was often able to read the inner feelings of people around me. But, I had gone on to suppress my intuition–under the influence of  western logical-thinking paradigm and also under the criticism of people who would tell me that I was jumping to conclusions.

My McKinsey experience and Ayn Rand influence further bolstered this paradigm.

Then, in 2011, I came in contact with some entrepreneurs and got to know about Steve Jobs. That is when I consciously realized the power of intuition. I re-discovered my own style of thinking intuitively. Over time, in any situation, I was able to see more dots and to connect them better. My cognition and judgment improve significantly. Only, I did not have the words for my intuition. Because, such is the nature of intuition. As they say: ‘you know more than you can tell’!

Another example:

Raj used to hesitate in front of beautiful girls. This personality trait troubled him. Unfortunately, he did not possess answerlessness, and so he settled for a hasty diagnosis of his personality. This led to disastrous consequences for him! Read here.

Key Insight

Only those who are able to tolerate answerlessness, are better able to understand life and its nuances.

Note: By the way, you can assess your own ability to tolerate answerlessness. Just take out 5 min to introspect and answer this question:

How many unanswered questions/riddles (similar to the questions mentioned above) you have in your mind currently?