I know nothing

I was walking around my neighborhood last week and I picked up a Thai menu from the new Thai place that replaced the old Thai place.  They had an item on the menu called Grilled Rip Eye Steak.

While it’s true that Asian restaurants are notorious for menu typos, the question I want to know is that if you know English is not your first language, why don’t you get someone else to proof read your menu?  Seems simple enough, but this is a classic case of a very common business problem…assuming you know something when in fact you don’t.

I read somewhere that our beliefs about successful businesses are distorted because once we see a business as successful we assume that they are doing everything right.  The truth is that most businesses manage a certain level of success despite themselves.  I learned that in a big way many years ago when a major money center bank who will go unnamed was a client.  By the time I was working with them, I had been in the business long enough to realize that the closer I got to senior management at the bank, the less they knew what they were doing—at least in terms of consumer marketing.  It’s a good thing they knew what they were doing with third world loans because those loans were what kept the organization afloat.  Imagine what that bank…or any business, really…could achieve if they were aware they they naturally do some things better than others and that they didn’t know everything about everything.

Which brings us to a very basic question:  How do we know what we don’t know…especially if it seems like we know it?

Here are my three rules to help you navigate.

1. Take your ego out of it.  It isn’t about being right. It’s about doing it right.  So what if you don’t know something.  Better to get that out in the open and then do what needs to happen to rectify the situation.

2. Assume you know nothing.  Or at the very least that you don’t know it all.  Just make that assumption.  Always.  When you assume you know nothing, everything becomes an opportunity to learn and improve.

3. Talk to experts.  Lots of education and lots of years working at very specific tasks is what make people experts.  Once a year call in a few experts…marketing, sales, HR, a coach, etc.  Ask them to review what is happening in your company and provide you with a recommendation on how you can improve things.  Be honest with them and pay attention to what those experts say.  They do know more than you.

Socrates said “I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.”


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