Tolerating Answerlessness

Tolerating Answerlessness

“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.”

– Einstein

Well, just like Physics, life is a subject of inquiry too.

It routinely throws tough questions at us:

  1. A teenager: Why do my classmates behave in such a manner with me?
  2. A husband: Who is right: my wife or my mom?
  3. A businessman: Why is my competitor’s business doing so well?
  4. A job aspirant: Why I keep on getting rejected in interviews?
  5. A parent: What does my kid not like studying at all?
  6. A sportsman: Why am I loosing my touch?

But, we are often unable to find good answers to such questions.


In my view, this is because we fail to keep the subjects of our inquiry in front of us sufficiently long enough.

So, if my view is correct, then those who better tolerate answerlessness can deal with life better.

Here is a personal story to illustrate the point:

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 ability to connect dots.

I was perplexed.

I was now being better able to connect dots and hence understand and judge complex situations. But, I was finding it increasingly difficult to articulate how I arrived at my conclusions!

Why was this happening to me? Was it just a phase? Was it good or bad?

In this situation, the best thing I did was to neither deny my situation nor settle for any hasty answers.

After 4 years, I was able to make more sense of my situation.

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 this faculty–under the influence of  western paradigm (of rational thinking) and also due to 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 discovered the power of intuition, and realized that thinking intuitively had always been natural thinking style!

Steve Jobs’ influence had re-kindled my intuitive faculties. I was now beginning to accept this cognitive style more and more! As a result, I was now able to see more and more dots (in any situation) and to connect them better. This made my cognition and judgment improve significantly.

However, as they say about the nature of intuition: ‘you know more than you can tell’. I was struggling to find words to articulate what I was feeling intuitively.

This is what was happening.

Now, once I was able to ‘sensemake’ my situation, I was able to better deal with it. In following ways:

  1. The immediate benefit was that I became comfortable with my situation
  2. Then, I was able to tell others to allow me time to articulate the rationale behind my conclusions. Surprisingly, most people not only complied but also understood and appreciated my cognitive style
  3. Finally, instead of getting discouraged by this potentially perplexing situation, I got encouraged to hone my intuition further

Today, after 7 years, I am very happy and proud about my cognitive style!

If you want another example, please read here. This example is about a guy called Raj. 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–and arrived at very bad decisions. This led to disastrous consequences for him!