Archive for the ‘I Don’t Know’ Category

Service of “I Don’t Know” When Nobody Does Yet Some Insist They Do

Thursday, May 28th, 2020


I had a boss who couldn’t say “I don’t know.” He’d ask for a PR proposal and would make up information about a prospective client rather than admit he hadn’t had time to read background.

We’ve all known people who no matter what you mention have already read the book, seen the movie, eaten at the restaurant when it opened, attended the play in previews, are up to speed on technology and are familiar with the latest jargon in every industry–or so they say. [It’s exhausting.]


We are used to pundits who share their intel with appropriate scientific backup and/or data to reassure. But that’s not what’s happening now. And it’s hard to accept. The twists and turns as Covid-19 plays out astound as they keep happening: You might carry and spread the virus to others yet not feel sick; children at first free from danger now are not. At first we were advised by some to physicians to disinfect groceries before putting them away and now the CDC advises you needn’t. [I still do.]

In spite of the uncertainty there are people who assert that they know for sure what’s best for communities, industries and fellow citizens. With equal assurance others maintain that they are wrong. You almost can’t blame those who crowd beaches the old fashioned way or mock social distancing and other suggestions to help stem the spread of the virus–as the advice and conclusions are quixotic. We’re all grasping at straws with hope for a cure or a vaccine ASAP.

To figure out next steps the president tossed the ball to governors and governors to local officials. With all the opinions and latest “facts” shooting at us from all directions citizens are ultimately left to decide what to do. When local restaurants open for business, are you in? Is a day at the beach in your near future? Planning a vacation that involves hotel stays? Are you unsettled by the ambiguities regarding Covid-19? Are you secure in the paths you’ve chosen to follow?



Service of “I Don’t Know” According to The President and Secretary of Health and Human Services

Monday, November 4th, 2013

I don't know

In recent history I can only once remember saying “I don’t know” or words to that effect in a business situation and leaving it at that. I was put in a tough spot by a client in a meeting. She was accusing her colleague of doing something dastardly and I didn’t want to get in the middle. I may have shrugged and wrinkled my brow. [I forget details of uncomfortable nightmares.] But the effect of my response/silence was that I didn’t know.

I don’t mean to imply that I know everything. But I wasn’t in PR for long when I realized that I couldn’t possibly answer each question media would ask about my clients, their products or organizations. It was my job to find out and get back fast. So that’s what I say and do. There’s a finality to “I don’t know” that implies “you’re on your own to find out.” In addition to providing answers my insecurities help: I hate to look dumb.

Looking dumbIn some way I admire the nerve of the President and Secretary Kathleen Sebelius for having the guts to say that they don’t or didn’t know about major issues–the impending Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act computer glitch to name one. It’s not as though, like President George HW Bush, either admitted to not knowing what a bar code is. Bar codes had nothing to do with that President’s job nor did it involve a major initiative of his.

Again due to insecurities I’d have wanted a dry run of the computer system driving the health care program well before deadline. You generate a lot less anger being the one to deliver bad news rather than having a client or constituency discover it on their own. Say you’re a contractor. Far better you call the client to announce that “we didn’t finish installing the appliances in your remodeled kitchen before the deadline of your moving to your home,” than for the home or apartment owner to return from work to discover this development at night when it’s too late to stop the moving van.

computer glitchSo what kind of strategy and result did the President and secretary expect by playing dumb confronted by the monumental computer glitch? And how come Secretary Sibelius wasn’t clear about some of the rules of the new insurance system regarding citizens already insured by their employers? President Regan hardly knew an answer requiring detail but had at hand the appropriate point-person for the answers. That would work.

How can you administer a project if you or your reports are not up to speed? Can you think of one good outcome of the computer glitch?

speeding cars

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