You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

Valentine’s Day 1991

The day before Valentine’s Day in 12th grade, I made chocolate chip cookies for the guy I had a crush on. It was my first attempt at cookies. “I made these last night. Would you like one, Christopher?”

He picked one out of the bag. Then he made a face. OMG, what is he doing? The next thing I know, he banged it against his blue metal locker. He took a bite.“These are hockey pucks!” he yelled.

I bit into one. I didn’t know what a hockey puck was supposed to taste like, but the way he said it did not sound like a compliment. I took another bite. Dense. Hard. I was afraid to break a tooth. Christopher walked away. I looked at my bag of pucks. What happened?! I didn’t understand why they were so tough.

I never made cookies again.

Thanksgiving 1991

Fast forward to Thanksgiving that year. Mrs. Zlatnik, my high school advisor, invited me to her family’s home for dinner. She even picked me up early so I could learn how to make an apple pie. She laid out all the ingredients for pie dough on her kitchen table: flour, salt, butter, water.

When she pulled out a metal cup, I asked her why she used that instead of just a mug. “What?! You don’t just use any old mug! A cup is a specific measurement.” I told her my Valentine’s Day “hockey puck” nightmare. When the recipe called for two cups of flour, I had grabbed a random MUG to scoop out the floor. No wonder the cookies came out tough as bricks. I used way too much flour, probably double what I should have. I had her in stitches. From that day on my baking life was forever changed.

The lesson here?

You don’t know what you don’t know. When I was unconsciously incompetent, I didn’t even know I had that blind spot.

The more specialized our work, the more we’re prone to blind spots. For example, HR is highly specialized nowadays. I saw a job posting on recently for a truck driver recruiter, talent consultant for special populations and a lead deep learning scientist.

Such a narrow focus often results in tunnel vision.

So how do you address unconscious incompetence and “you don’t know what you don’t know?”

Get a board of advisors

This is a group of peers, mentors, and trusted friends who tell it to you straight. Pick people who won’t beat around the bushes. You want your board to expand your awareness and consciousness. They’re your eyes and ears for those UFOs outside your periphery vision.

Ask them “What do you see about XYZ situation that I’m not seeing?” Or try “I’m having these thoughts about…Can you help me brainstorm what else is possible?”

Prepare for some difficult answers. Your board’s job is not to stroke your ego. Consider their advice as updates to your mental software. Don’t take it personally.

Mrs. Zlatnik was my board of advisors in high school. Thanks to Mrs. Zlatnik steering me in the right direction, I’m now trying my hand at cinnamon rolls, even delicate puff pastry. Yum!

What’s missing?

Are you feeling stuck in area of your business or career? Need an outsider’s perspective to enlarge your view so you can take it to the next level?