Not Knowing

I was attending the Final Interview for a Management Trainee position in a popular Indian Conglomerate.

This Interview was scheduled with Director Finance. He was a six foot tall, well built with sharp piercing eyes. He was considered a highly knowledgeable person. When he looks at you, his eyes pierces through you and makes you feel naked. After few questions on various subjects, he threw that question which unsettled me completely.

What is your favorite subject”

“Taxation “(Most of the Indian Chartered Accountants at that time had tax as their favorite subject).

“Well, As you are aware that the new government has just taken over. They are about to announce the Budget for the year. What recommendations would you like to provide to the Finance Minister to include in the amendments”

Startled, I could see how I managed to dig the grave for myself.

I remembered a story about a sage and three men

One day three men were walking in a thick forest. They found a sage standing in front of a tree. As a mark of respect, they bowed before the sage. Sage asked them “Are you guys interested to fly. I have a magic carpet”

All of them were excited to fly. But then Sage said “There is one condition. I will ask you one question. If your answer is wrong, you will be thrown out from the magic carpet. But if your answer is honest and correct, you get the chance to complete the flight”.

They accepted the condition with a hope that they can find right answers.

While they were flying over the forest, they could see one Pregnant Deer in the midst of delivering a baby. Few feet away, there was a tigress looking for food for its hungry cubs. The moment tigress saw the deer, the inevitable happened.

The sage now looking at these men asked “Tell me whether tiger killing deer is right or wrong”

One of them who thought he was the wisest among the three-spoke first “Tiger is right because it is the nature of the tiger to kill. Moreover, it has to kill to feed its cubs”.

Next moment, he was thrown out of the carpet. The second person immediately said “Tiger is wrong. How can someone be cruel to deer which has just delivered a baby”.

Next moment, he was thrown out of the carpet. The sage turned towards the only person left out. The third person said, “I don’t know”.

The Sage and that person safely completed their trip.

The moral of the story is that people who accept that they don’t know or don’t have answers for all the questions complete their journey successfully.

This story resonated with me immediately and remained in my memory.

Back in the interview room, Director Finance was curiously looking at me to get an answer.

I took few minutes to compose myself, swallowed the pride that I had about my knowledge in taxation.

“I don’t know”.

I paused only to continue “I cannot make any recommendations just like that to Finance Minister. In my opinion, tax amendments need a careful study taking into consideration about its implications across the industries and society before including in the proposal. I need time”

“Thank you. You can go”

I left without knowing the result. My friend scolded me for not taking a chance with some recommendation.

But I was offered the job.

“What made him give me the job?”. I was not having the answer till few months into the job.

After few months, I had the opportunity to attend the meetings with the Managers and Directors. It was a revelation for me to find people in the senior positions accepting that “they don’t know”. They had no fear in accepting that they don’t know about something but took time to read about the subject/case only to get back with complete information and action plan. The Strength of that company lied in creating an environment where people had no fear in saying “I don’t Know”.

I realised the reason for me getting that job — Honestly accepting that “I don’t know”.

Famous Tamil Poet “Avvaiyyar,” said -”What we learned is equal to handful of sand, but what is still to be learned is about the size of the world”

Accepting that we don’t know something is truly humbling and enriching, because, the journey of knowledge starts at that point.