One of the key invitations of Zen thought is non-attachment. For our purposes, that means not being too attached to our thoughts and opinions. Certainty then is the ultimate form of attachment, not only setting us up for potential disappointment but equally closing our minds to possibility.

Certainty represents the death of questions. No questioning means no creativity and innovation.

Indeed, purely from the practical point of view, what is the benefit of being certain of anything? Why not keep questioning? Even if we have seen something to be true in other contexts, perhaps this context is different. How can we be certain it is true here?

One reason is that humans like to be consistent so it can be hard to be seen as someone who changes one’s mind. And yet, in my book, it is better to be roughly right than precisely wrong“. The invitation therefore is to set aside certainty in favour of curiosity. What have you got to lose?

Note: The above quote is often wrongly attributed to J. M. Keynes but in fact the original quote is from Carveth Read, an English philosopher: “It is better to be vaguely right than exactly wrong”. ‘Source: Oxford Reference

Questions in the Image:

  • What am I certain of?
  • How am I certain of it?
  • Why am I certain of it?
  • What if I questioned it?

Want to Read More Around This Topic?

The Book of Not Knowing: Exploring the True Nature of Self, Mind, and Consciousness by Peter Ralston (link to The book explores the concept of ‘not-knowing’ as a mental state of openness and curiosity, leading to new insights and understandings. The book discusses how certainty can act as a barrier to true knowledge and understanding.

Nurturing Curiosity – Daily Practice: This is part of the Nurturing Curiosity series of tools, insights and questions designed to help nurture curiosity as part of our daily practice. In point of fact, every interaction we have is an opportunity to question what we are observing and how we and others are seeing the world. Also remember that questions come in many forms throughout our day – a child asking why certain tasks need to be done triggers the question – Why, indeed? Why does anything need to be done? What purpose is it ultimately serving? Of late, I have become hyper focused on priorities. In asking my child to do this task, what priority am I establishing? Is this what I want?

About Tom O’Leary

My mission is to help others think differently – meaning more broadly and deeply – and thereby make better decisions. The key to thinking differently lies in our curiosity.

The more we question, the more possible answers we uncover, and the more we expand what we thought possible. Life has taught me that possibility lies not so much in seeking answers but in learning to ask better questions – the ones that help prioritise what is truly essential.

And yet, in a culture obsessed with efficiency and productivity, the paradox is that much energy and resources are wasted by a bias towards action over contemplation. If you are answering the wrong question, it doesn’t matter how ‘hard’ you work, you are still answering the wrong question.

That is why I am a big advocate of nurturing curiosity and innovative thinking at all ages, particularly amongst leaders because of the impact they have on us all. In my vision, leaders aren’t boxed in by traditional thinking or established playbooks. They are curious, open to fresh ideas and diverse perspectives, fostering a culture of exploration and learning.

How Might Tom Help?

  1. My first invitation is to take maximum advantage of the free content on this site.
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