"Knowing what you don't know"


Hope you’re all well.

Do any of you have anyone in your life who…? Well, no, that’s a rubbish way of framing it. Let me tell you about someone in my life who…. No, again that’s not quite…

I first heard this expression very early on in my career and I remember thinking, point blank ‘what a load of rubbish’. A bit like when you first heard the term “thought leadership” and you thought “is this some sort of cult?. Anyway, I heard this phrase and immediately wrote it off as nonsense. I’ve since heard it, thought about it, talked about it, argued over its meaning and now, here, today – TODAY – I’m writing a blog about it.

First time I heard it was iPhone 2/3 sort of time and it’s early on in my career. It’s some sort of review/appraisal and someone who I knew was very important said something along the lines of “you seem to know your clients well but I don’t think you know what you don’t know”


Right, there’s two sides to this.

Firstly, there’s the practical, this is what it means in business stuff, which we’ll start with, BUT there’s a deeper, more personal side to this that I will save for the end (of course!)

So, let’s take the business application of this phrase and start with the example above. So this ‘person of importance’ that said “I don’t think you know what you don’t know” comment was pointing out to me that there were opportunities for me to work with my customers being missed left, right and centre. I didn’t know how most of my clients were structured, which bits of their technology was outsourced, how much of their workforce was temporary, what their strategy was over the next 12, 24, 36 months. BUT more than this I didn’t know that I didn’t know it.

Is there a difference? Yes. The difference is, very simply, if you know you don’t know it then you can start to find it out, if you don’t know you don’t know it then you never will. So how do you get to know what you don’t know?

By being inquisitive. By being fascinated. By desperately wanting to know ‘stuff’. By asking questions (almost always open ones). That’s it, just “be inquisitive” – simple, right? Maybe not, so how do you do this? Well, I’m not sure it’s as complicated as it might sound. I think, actually, learning to be inquisitive or at least more inquisitive is simply about training yourself to ask “why” when you hear, see, smell, feel, say, like, enjoy, dislike, hate or love some/anything.

I’m not sure there’s much more to say on this except that.

But what else do I think this whole “know what you don’t know subject is all about?” to summarise I think that this can be improved by taking the time to know yourself. What do I mean by that? I mean getting to know your own motivators, demotivators, reactions, irritants, likes, dislikes, qualities you respect in others, things about people you disrespect, things that drive you mad, things you’re really good at, things you typically struggle with, things that make you nervous, your fears, insecurities, comforts, routines, habits, thought patterns, drivers, morality etc. What happens when you know this stuff (or as much of it as possible) is you start to have a load more empty space in your own mind to think about other things (or be more inquisitive!).

I think, in general, people spend too much time thinking about how they feel, not why they feel like they do.

When you know why you feel like you do you stop thinking about how you feel because you get it, there’s nothing to be gained by thinking about how you feel and you create space and time to think about other, typically more productive things.

Does that make sense? I suppose I’m saying that in order to start knowing what you don’t know you need to be inquisitive. In order to learn how to be inquisitive you need to free up some space in your mind and the best way to do this is by knowing more about you. Be inquisitive about your own emotions, why you feel the way you do because once you know what you don’t know about who you are, you’re going to find knowing what you don’t know about everything else a whole lot easier.

When you understand how your own brain/thoughts/emotions work you will have the space to learn how other things do too.

Have amazing SUMMER weekends – that has happened, it’s May and someone this morning told me it was going to hit 26 degrees this weekend.

‘See’ you next week!