The need for Experts and contradictions – The wisdom to say “I don’t know” & seek advice

Saying “I don’t know” is often seen negatively in our society. Who has never experienced this situation? Do we give ourselves the right to say “I don’t know” enough? How do the Experts position themselves in relation to this question?
From citizens to Experts, including entrepreneurs, politicians, justice, international organizations, everyone is trying to find answers to the crisis. The unknown is frightening.

Who has the courage to admit that s/he “does not know”?

The right to say “I don’t know”
Rather optimistic in nature and the father of three children, I like to see everyday heroes in this world. Among them, in these times of COVID-19 pandemic, the scientific and medical community. Despite the risks these exceptional women and men face on a daily basis, they continue to fight on the front lines, seek solutions and save lives. Many of them do not hesitate to say “I don’t know”.

And they are not alone! In many areas, collective intelligence is mobilized to reach solutions.

At a time when standards are more and more numerous, more and more technicity, more and more complex tools, who can still claim to know everything?

So why not saying “I don’t know”?

Our education has generally taught us to give the appearance of mastering. However, the reality of everyday life reminds us that we do not control everything. The biggest revealer of this reality is very often children and their famous questions starting with “why?”.

As such, we are all somewhere looking for answers. Children just dare to verbalize it more easily than we do.

The difficulty sometimes comes from too much information. In this mass of data that surrounds us, reaching a synthesis is not easy. Identifying reliable sources has also become increasingly difficult.

Saying “I don’t know”, calling on an Expert or, as an Expert, asking the question to the community is showing humility, getting out of your ivory tower to confront other opinions. It takes courage and commitment. It also brings contradiction.

And who likes to be contradicted?

From contradiction comes light

The debates of Experts often lead me to think that from contradiction comes light. The contradiction is at the very heart of the expertise, hence the term elsewhere “counter-expertise”. Often, it is necessary to have the opinion of several Experts on the same subject to make the right decision.

Experts in the same field sometimes do not all agree. The current medical debate over the use of chloroquine is a good example. Medical and scientific Experts are divided. The situation is complex, there is no time but the debate between Experts is healthy and it will lead to a solution. Putting several Experts at the same table brings real wealth to decision-makers.

Hiring several Experts means saying “I don’t know”. This is why governments and decision-makers often surround themselves with several Experts, as is currently the case in the COVID 19 crisis. As for the Experts themselves, they often call on the community to discuss.

The diversity of Experts can also represent an opportunity, for example if they come from various geographic areas, potentially with varied cultures, or even different languages (example from Switzerland with 4 official languages). These differences potentially accentuate the contradiction. Although more difficult from a decision-making point of view at national or international level, the reality on the ground seen on different prisms often offers a more complete picture.


The right to say “I don’t know” is often brought to light in times of crisis. To call on Experts, these exceptional women and men, is to say “I don’t know”.

With this humility, the decision maker surrounds himself with skills, experiences and knowledge that can save him/her a lot of time and money.

Governments, policy makers and entrepreneurs need to be supported. They take risks, they make mistakes, but is it not through error that we learn?

Admitting a need for expertise or “counter-expertise” is a great sign of wisdom, humility and respect.

Experts Without Borders (Experts Sans Frontières), World Federation of Experts, aims to protect decision-makers and to raise the status and recognition of Experts internationally.

During the coming weeks, Experts Without Borders (Experts Sans Frontières) will give the floor to its team and to the Experts through a series of portraits allowing everyone to present the importance of their work in many areas that affect us all.