Successful business owners need to learn how to find out what they don’t know. Dennis Zink, Bonnie Seitzinger and Fred Dunayer discuss methods to capture both internal and external hidden information.
Published: Monday, July 14, 2014.
The Socratic Paradox states, “I know that I know nothing,” or “I know one thing: that I know nothing.”
In collaboration with Bonnie Seitzinger, a Manasota SCORE mentor, CPA and author of the Lean Into Success program, I set out to understand this paradox. Bonnie and I developed a methodology and presentation based on learning “How to know what you don’t know.”
All organizations have problems that often lay beneath the surface and are hidden from view. It is important to ensure that these problems do not remain undisclosed.
Andrew Grove, former Intel chairman and CEO, said, “Only the paranoid survive.”
So what can you do and where should you start?
Prevent Problems: One strategy in growing a business is to prevent problems before they happen. We need to learn as much as we can about what it is we do not know, so we can prevent problems. We can’t know everything with absolute certainty, but we can feel confident about specific things.
In some situations businesses fail because owners think they know more than they do. They may not be open to learning what they do not know.
There’s a learning model developed in the 1970s that describes the stages of learning, going from incompetence to competence. The first stage, unconscious competence, is not knowing what you don’t know. The next stage is conscious competence, which is knowing you have a deficit and knowing the value of developing skills to address that deficit. We want to focus on the not knowing as well as developing the skills to be in the know. Both are invaluable skills.
Seek-out internal and external feedback to learn what you don’t know.
The well-known entrepreneur Steve Jobs talked about the best ideas coming to him when he allowed his mind to become quiet for periods of time each day.
Try asking yourself two simple questions for a week and see what insight it provides to you. The Morning Question: What Good shall I do today? The Evening Question: What Good have I done today?
Take a contemplative minute by closing the door after each meeting or each lengthy phone call to give yourself a creative pause. Over time, daily contemplation practice can change the way you think. The results will come to you in the form of knowing what you don’t know.
Developing and nurturing your own internal feedback system creates awareness, and awareness brings answers. These answers lead to new choices.
One of the best success principles, which sounds so simple, is to ask, ask, ask! This can be done in several ways. A healthy dialogue several times a year, one-on-one with employees, can be extremely revealing. You must have the ability to express your questions to employees and then to fully listen to their responses. Some entrepreneurs have an open-door policy and a culture of feedback and suggestion sessions. It’s important to avoid complaint sessions. The goal is to have a positive culture of continuous improvement.
Have strategic planning sessions, using a SWOT analysis to assess your business’ strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Great ideas and learning what you don’t know come forth with SWOT analysis.
Some businesses conduct focus groups with an outside facilitator to generate ideas and get their creative juices flowing. Include both inside and outside sources, employees and customers.
It’s important to take time for long-term planning, which leads to learning about what you don’t know. It also improves short-term decision making.
Gather actionable information from your customers. The restaurant industry does this very well with brief customer surveys.
Join a CEO Roundtable group. Goals are discussed and the group has a sense of accountability to each other. These roundtables help you “think outside the box” and explore possibilities with a divergent focus.
Another source of information about what you don’t know might be trade associations and trade publications. These will help you “think inside the box” and explore possibilities with a convergent focus.
Develop a dream team of experts. Include your attorney, CPA, banker, insurance agent and perhaps a trusted supplier. Prepare in advance and ask, ask, ask those questions.
Minor problems can become disasters unless they are discovered and solved as quickly as possible.
Stay curious. It’s what keeps business owners on top of their game. Recognize your deficits. Be open to the value of the new skill of learning what you don’t know. I bet you didn’t know all of this.