Shocked boy

There’s a mass amount of knowledge available at our fingertips; Google knows virtually everything. Research continues to unveil the secrets of science and history that were once questions with no answers, or weren’t even questions at all. We live in a pool of knowledge, and for each person all knowledge is divided up into three distinct categories as described in a podcast by Debbie Miller titled, “A Brand Called You”. These three categories are simple:

  • Things you know
  • Things you don’t know
  • Things you don’t know you don’t know

Let’s put things into perspective.

Things you know can be a great variety of knowledge such as facts about yourself, skills or talents you have, or knowledge you have gained through personal experiences, learning, others, etc.

Ex: My eyes are green. I know how to play the piano. I know that the area of a triangle is 1/2 base multiplied by height, burns from curling irons leave scars, and the earth revolves around the sun.

Things you know you don’t know is what you are aware you don’t know, or how to do.

Ex: I don’t know how to rebuild a car. I don’t know how to speak another language, what it would feel like to dunk a basketball, or what squid tastes like. This is all knowledge and skill I’m aware I don’t have (or at least not yet).

Some of these I don’t know simply because I haven’t had the opportunity to know. Though I’m not tall enough to dunk a basketball, and haven’t ordered calamari, there’s plenty of others who have had that experience.

Things you don’t know you don’t know could be information or skills you weren’t even aware of, or didn’t know existed.

Ex: Well... that’s the thing. We can’t know unless we have someone tell us or we think a different way. I didn’t know unicycle hockey was a sport until a couple days ago. I didn’t know that I talked in my sleep until my sister complained after sleeping in the same room for family vacation. This is where the beloved brutally honest friend, family member, coworker, etc. comes in. There’s things in life we will never know unless we are told or unless we change the way we think.

Now let’s give an example in the business world of the three areas of knowledge.

Coca-Cola knows what products/services they provide and how much revenue they had last year.

Coca-Cola knows they don’t know how to drill oil. They make beverages and know that other lines of business aren’t their specialty. Coca-Cola knows that Pepsi is one of their biggest competitors.

What Coca-Cola doesn’t know they don’t know is what haunts the owner’s minds. What is it about their business they don’t know? These are the ‘what if’ thoughts that never even cross their minds, and the only way to know about it is to have someone tell you. Are there any issues with companies they have agreements with? Maybe there’s 100 of their companies that are planning to not renew their contract with them because of a new policy and is looking to switch to a competitor. Maybe there’s a discrepancy in their products that hasn’t been identified, or employee behavior is unacceptable to company standards but didn’t shock any customers enough to say anything.

“It’s not what you don’t know, it’s how we react to what you don’t know” (Miller). You need to be aware of things you don’t know. In the podcast named earlier, a small clip mentioned how important it is to verbalize when you don’t know about something instead of trying to act like you do. But isn’t this common sense? Of course not, people want to sound more knowledgeable and intelligent, but once we say something not relevant it shows that we don’t know about that subject and don’t know how to be real and truthful!

Back to the first example when I identified things I know — anyone reading this post also knows the formula for the area of a triangle, that burns leave scars and the earth revolves around the sun. But the vast majority would have had no idea that I could play the piano and have green eyes — how could they? That was knowledge they didn’t know they didn’t know. We all have different circles of what we do and don’t know based on the environment we were raised in, as well as our interests and what knowledge we sought to attain. Within our different circles of knowledge of what we don’t know, someone else does. Just because I don’t know how to rebuild a car doesn’t mean nobody else can. We benefit and grow by conversing with people whose realms of knowledge differ from our own. An unhappy customer knows they are unhappy, but the business is completely in the dark. My point being- your three realms of what you know, don’t know and don’t know you don’t know are different than everyone else’s, and you can benefit by learning from and listening to others. So ask.

Ask your customers and employees within your company to learn about the things you had no clue about. Too often criticism is taken too personally. It could have been intended that way, but every day is a chance to gain new knowledge and insight. Those restaurant surveys have the right idea, though accurate data is hard to come by because there’s a small percentage of people who think the 5 minutes is worth the free sandwich. Most just click away until they get the code at the end. Next time, take the survey and be honest, it’s all to help someone else be aware of what they didn’t know.

Ask the right people. Ask the right questions.

Asking questions to pointless people is still asking questions with no answers. Or you can have the right people, but no way to channel what you really want out of them. You don’t ask your employees how the service of your restaurant is; you ask the customer. You don’t ask the customer how to fix your internal procedures; you ask the employee.

What you don’t know you don’t know just might be the end of you. Don’t let it be the reason why you or your store isn’t as successful as you hoped. Keep learning, keep asking questions and continue to minimize the area of things you don’t know you don’t know.