Get a Little Freaky

Before you think this publication of ours has gone off the deep end, hear me out. The title of this edition has to do with a popular series of books from Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner titled Freakonomics, Super Freakonomics, and Think Like a Freak. It’s very likely that many of you have read at least one, if not all, of these books. The third book in this little trifecta of cerebral swordplay, Think Like a Freak, will start us off on our discussion today.

In one of the early chapters, the authors discuss “the three hardest words in the English language” – and they’re not “I love you”, “Santa’s not real”, or “We’re outta tacos?” No, the three hardest words in the English language are – does anybody want to lay down some bets here before we proceed? – “I don’t know.” Once most of us reach a certain age, we don’t like to admit that we’re not in the loop on something or we haven’t figured something out just yet, and our “bluffing” gene kicks into high gear.

They then cited a study done by this really smart (and extremely patient – you’ll see why in a minute) guy at University of Pennsylvania. He enlisted nearly 300 “experts” – government officials, political-science scholars, national-security experts, economists, etc. – to make thousands of predictions THAT HE CHARTED OVER THE NEXT TWENTY YEARS (that’s patience!). These were smart people, right, who know a lot of stuff about a lot of things. However, the results of the study were shocking. While 96% of these experts had postgraduate training (read: they thought they were smartest of the smartypants), their predictions were about as accurate as “dart-throwing chimps”. When asked to name one of the basic reasons these “experts” were not very good at predicting outcomes, Professor Shifty McGotcha said it was overconfidence. In other words, because these folks are experts in one or two areas, they think they’re experts (or at least smarter than the average bear) in practically all corners of our existence. Rather than admitting their limits, they forged ahead with predictions related to a whole bunch of stuff that’s not even CLOSE to their specialties.

This was all preface to their main point: while it may seem against our nature to admit we don’t know something, and our brains will try to stop our mouths from saying “I don’t know,” those are actually the THREE MOST POWERFUL WORDS (when combined, of course) in the English language. Why? Contrary to what we may initially think, saying “I don’t know” doesn’t show weakness – quite the opposite, it shows that we are willing to go find out. (Now, don’t mistake this with a teenager’s “I don’t know” when asked the current location of his shoes or your car keys – he’s not signifying a deep-seated desire to seek out those items on your behalf; he’d just rather resume texting, tweeting, and/or eating.)

Whether you’re the one on the giving or receiving end of an “I don’t know”, think of the courage (and WISDOM) it takes to utter those words when asked a question. When you’re about to ask your realtor a question and you stop yourself and say, “I can’t ask her that. She won’t know the answer,” by all means, ask the question. It’ll give your realtor the chance to research the answer and get back to you with more information than you had originally anticipated. Win win! If you’re a realtor, you WANT your clients to ask you questions to which you don’t know the answer. Yes, you read that correctly. If they feel they can ask you any question, and they know you’re going to be honest if you don’t know the answer, they’re going to rely on you even more heavily because they know you’re going to research the heck out of their question(s) and not only give them complete but honest answers. And THAT certainly beats having chimpanzees throwing darts (or other objects) at you and your clients!

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