You don’t know what you don’t know…

There have been moments in my life where I felt like I had everything figured out – that I knew what was up, I knew what I was doing and that I was definitely on the right track. (This investment is solid, this company will be a great long-term opportunity, etc.).

And pretty much every one of those moments was quickly followed by some kind of wake-up call that made it clear that I didn’t know everything. In fact, I had overlooked or missed something and it was going to set me back – personally, professionally, financially or all of the above.

In hindsight, many of those oversights should have been obvious, some of them would have been challenging to pick up on and 1 or 2 of them came completely out of left field and would have surprised almost anyone.

But the important point isn’t whether or not I should have caught whatever I missed.

The important point is that you ALWAYS have to remember that you don’t know what you don’t know. It’s really more of a mindset and a willingness to actively admit that you can (and need) to continue learning on all fronts.

The alternative is the lesson that I’ve learned the hard way – when you think you have everything figured out and you don’t make the extra effort to question things, life will slap you upside the head with a surprise. And that’s usually not to your benefit.

What can you do to improve? Here are a few ideas that might help:

The Johari Window and Blind Spots

One tool that might be helpful on a more personal level is to use a Johari window with your team. This is a simple quadrant based tool that can help drive feedback and discussions within a team or a group that you work closely with.

This article has a good description on what the Johari Window is and some examples on how you might use it: Johari Window Model

The reality is that we all have blind spots in terms of how we act and interact with others and open communication and constructive feedback and can help minimize those blind spots.


Work with Someone… (like a coach…)

Another proven way to help you figure out what you don’t know is to engage with someone else on a consistent basis and use them as an advisor and sounding board. This could be a business coach, a mentor or even a friend or colleague who has the ability and temperament to give candid feedback and act as an accountability partner.

Here’s a very tangible example, I recently helped a client who’s doing a lot of hiring and training by letting them know about a state economic development program that gives tax credits for hiring and training. The CEO didn’t know anything about this program (didn’t know what he didn’t know). But it turns out that they are going to end up saving hundreds of thousands of dollars over the next 5 years!

One of the big benefits we bring to our clients is that we aren’t as locked into their business and industry as they are. Often when you’re too close to something, it can be difficult to see the bigger picture or to realize that there may be other ways of doing things. Having a 3rd party who’s on your side can help you in a lot of ways.


Develop a ‘Beginner’s Mind’

There’s a concept from Zen Buddhism called ‘Shoshin’ – which means Beginner’s Mind. The idea is simple even if it’s not always easy to pull off. When you are first learning something you are open to all kinds of possibilities (you’re extremely aware that you don’t know what you don’t know) and because of that you approach challenges in a more creative way.

As an ‘expert’ you’re much more likely to feel like you’ve ‘been there and done that’ when a challenge comes up. And because of that you’re much more likely to just do what you’ve always done – and while that may address the problem it won’t help you improve and you won’t continue to grow.

As mentioned above, this is a simple concept, but it can be difficult to routinely put it into practice. Here are some worthwhile articles that might help you: How to adopt a Beginnner’s Mindset, Approaching life with a Beginner’s Mind from Zen Habits and finally a great article from James Clear – Shoshin: This Zen Concept will help you stop being a slave to old beliefs

When’s the last time you thought about what you don’t know? Are you confident and open? Or are you potentially over-confident? I’d love to hear your thoughts – share them below.

Shawn Kinkade Kansas City Business Coach