How Quick Answers Make Us Stupid

Leaders who give quick answers end up surrounded by low-functioning sleepwalkers.

Quick answers propagate shallow thinking, irresponsibility, and low engagement.

The need for quick answers makes us fear the disruption of new thoughts. But if you think what you’ve always thought, you will get what you’ve always got.

Everything is remembering until someone says, “I don’t know.” 

Quick answers:

  1. Reflect past experience.
  2. Seem right at first. You don’t intentionally have stupid ideas.
  3. Short-circuit deep thought and exploration.
  4. Produce conformity rather than creativity.

Note: Every situation isn’t a moment of exploration. Give quick answers when new employees ask for the location of the restroom, don’t ask, “Where do you think it is?


When someone says, “I don’t know,” say, “Great! Now we can start thinking.” Our awkwardness with not knowing is one reason we think so little.

The moment of uncertainty is the tipping point of trajectory.

Respect and protect:

Don’t interrupt thought. Protect it.

#1. Look for uncertainty. Thinking begins where certainty ends. Those who know the answer end up defending their position. 

The enemy of thought is the illusion that you know.

#2. Listen for sighing. Some people sigh when they get to the point of not knowing.

#3. Watch eye movement. Some look at the ceiling when they think. Others look at the floor.

#4. Pay attention to tics that indicate thinking.

  1. Pen clicking.
  2. Leaning back.
  3. Fidgeting
  4. Wide eyes.

Deadly diversion:

Listen for answers that divert from the question.

Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman explains cognitive ease in Thinking, Fast and Slow. “… when faced with a difficult question, we often answer an easier one instead, usually without noticing the substitution.”

The most obvious substitution happens when you ask, “What do you want?” This question is almost universally replaced with, “What don’t you want?”

How might leaders encourage real thinking?