Ok, I learned a new word and I want to share it with you! I discovered it in one of Levitt and Dubner’s Freakonomics books that I friend sent to me. (Thanks Michelle). The word I learned is Ultracrepidarianism which is defined as “the habit of giving opinions and advice on matters outside of one’s knowledge or competence”
I must confess that I have, at times, given advice on subjects outside my area of expertise. We are all probably guilty of making this mistake at one time or another.
Why do we engage in this behavior? The answer is fairly simple. We all seem to hate to answer a question with a simple “I do not know”. We feel it makes us look ignorant and that it will damage out reputation in the eyes of others.
I remember clients asking me legal questions and how difficult it was for me to say “I do not know”. I did it, but I always added “but I will find out”.
Furthermore, shooting from the hip rarely has immediate consequences to the advice giver as most people forget about your prior opinions as no one is really keeping track of what you said anyway.
The classic example of the harm that Ultracrepidarianism can cause is reflected in the Iraq War. The primary pretext for entering into the war was the assumption that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and that He was in cahoots with Al Qaeda. Thousands of Americans died in Iraq (and we are back for round 3) and we have spent almost one trillion dollars supporting the Iraq war effort. Unfortunately, years later, we know that Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction and that He was opposed to Al Qaeda’s efforts.
As the Freakonomics authors state, What might have occurred if the Advisors pushing for the war in Iraq had honestly answered the President’s questions about weapons of mass destruction and Al Qaeda in Iraq, by stating the correct answer, “I do not know” ?
Even the staunchest supporters of the Iraq War have emerged mostly unscathed by their erroneous advice which simply confirms that they can continue to practice Ultracrepidarianism without any real consequences.
Having been humbled by my own experiences, I am beginning to accept the fact that I do not know the answer to every question put to me. I am now much more willing to utter those four humiliating words, ” I do not Know!”

Ken Flaska

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