You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

“You don’t know what you don’t know.”  That’s one of my favorite sayings, and a true maxim in life and in business.  Having a “know it all” mentality can lead to disastrous decision making.  I’ve learned this the hard way, and if I had a dime for every time I have said “you don’t know what you don’t know” to one of my teammates or colleagues, I’d be very rich!

The beautiful hand painted wooden Russian Nesting Dolls from the city of Penza (above and below) illustrate this point very well.  The dolls descend in size and fit inside one another.  You open the largest one and keep going until you finally come to the impossibly tiny little doll at the end.

Ever had a problem you think you solved until another related issue popped up? Something completely unexpected.  Then you thought you solved it again but then another surprise came up?  And so on and so on until you finally got the correct answer?  Finding the right solution is just like opening up a set of these nesting dolls one by one.

Problems can be solved faster by knowing the simple fact that “you don’t know what you don’t know.”  So here are some simple ideas to keep in mind.

1.  Don’t Assume Anything - You’ve heard bosses and mentors say, “If you A-S-S-U-M-E, you make an A-S-S out of U and ME,” right?  I have to agree that, while extremely difficult NOT to do, assuming things can be very costly, especially when communicating with others.  Of course, you have to assume or guess at some things, but try and get as many facts, background info, etc. ahead of time.

2.  Be Prepared – For anything.  Expect surprises, and just take the issue as it comes and think things through carefully.

3.  Have a “Beginner’s Mind,” or “Shosin” as the Zen Buddhists like to call it.  By being open and devoid of preconceptions, you bring a level of humility and desire for learning to the challenge at hand.

4.  Get Help – Ask experts or experienced people and advisers who can help you.  And do your homework independently, as well.

5.  Test and Iterate – If you have the luxury of time, take baby steps and test your ideas. Whether it’s a new product or a new target audience, or whatever, put it out there on a test basis first, then evaluate feedback and results….and then adjust accordingly.

We at Lore Systems have put in place these practices and have benefitted immeasurably in making better decisions in everything we do.

Good luck, and thank you very much for reading.  Please feel free to comment and sign up for my Blog!

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11 thoughts on “You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

  1. Tien – Great points. Therein lies the value of experts. Recognize that the experts don’t know what they don’t know either. It is easy for us to get caught in a world where we discount the ideas of others because we assume that they don’t know as much as we do. As you point out, we just need them to know what we don’t know.

    No matter how many workshops I deliver, I consistently hear ideas from attendees that I had not thought of before. Each person brings a valuable perspective that, when properly directed, can create value that exceeds the sum of its parts. Once we stop listening, our ideas become a victim of what we didn’t know.

    Thank you for sharing valuable insights to put to good use in the new year!

    • Thanks for the feedback Ian. Great to see you approaching your work with a “Beginner’s Mind.” Amazing how much you can learn, right!? Hope you and your family have a great 2012!!

  2. I really love the beginner’s mind point in particular. Keeping your ego out of things, assuming that you do not know everything, knowing that others may have knowledge or skill to bring to bear on a problem …. all those traits make problem solving so much easier and more fun!

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