How knowing that you don't know much can help you make smarter decisions.
You probably don't know nearly as much as you think you do. I certainly don't. In the spectrum of knowledge even the most insightful human only sees a sliver of light.
Here's the beginning of a long list of what you—and all entrepreneurs—don't know:
What people are feeling in other parts of the world
What folks are concerned about elsewhere in your city
What is happening outside of your front door
What the whole story is behind anything you are told
What's happening right behind you
What your body is doing right now
Why you have your worldview
The list goes on and on. We really don't know much. To say we know even 1 percent of what's happening would be a gargantuan overstatement.
So how are we able to make decisions?
In our heart-of-hearts we all believe that we make decisions about our personal lives and work based upon the facts—our understanding of the context of the choice. But if you think about it, we typically make decisions based upon only a sliver of what we actually need to know.
"It's a good idea to buy this house because it suits my needs and the value is lower than it was last year."
Well, what happens when you discover your wife is pregnant with twins, the local mayor is thinking about proposing a tax hike next week, your boss is thinking about relocating you to another country, or a flood is on its way?
"I should target kids as customers because they're in need of my product."
Well, what happens when you discover that one of your suppliers put lead in the plastic, grandmas love your product even more than kids, or a competitor you've never heard of is on the verge of launching a slightly better, faster, cheaper version of what you built (and oh yeah…she patented it)?
When you start to think about what you don't know it might seem a bit paralyzing. If you don't know nearly enough to make a decision, how can you continue to run your business?
The answer: You can continue to operate. You can continue to move quickly. But, you have to do so knowing your primary limitation: You're ignorant. You don't know much of anything.
So what does knowing that you don't know much tell you? A few things:
1. You need to listen…a lot.
2. You're going to get it wrong.
3. You should be ready to change directions when you do get it wrong.
4. You need to be ready to forgive yourself for screwing up.
From a business perspective, there's only one comforting thing in all of this: Nobody else knows anything either.