What Don't You Know?

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

A couple of years ago, upon encountering the notion of "risk intelligence", I noted the following:

Based on past experience, I think it is possible for people with this kind of self-awareness [i.e., of what they do and do not know] to appear to be less confident than they actually are. This can happen when one communicates his level of uncertainty poorly (or too conservatively) or when one is dealing with someone who lacks this form of self-awareness (and hence equates certainty with confidence or views admitted uncertainty with suspicion). I can even recall doing the former while in the latter situation quite a few times when I was younger. (This ultimately culminated in me being ignored after correcting someone I absolutely knew to be wrong! Fortunately, the stakes were low.)
And so it is that I found refreshing one entrepreneur's tale of how he made a crucial hire, as well as the lessons he learned from it:
... While there are lots of tactics, there is no one true silver bullet. I had lots of ideas I wanted to try. One of the reasons I was so excited to have Kiran on board was that he would be the one who would actually get to try them, as well as come up with tons of new ideas.  But at this moment, the most truthful answer I could give him was, I don't know.

And he smiled and responded back, "I was waiting for that. I like it when people say I don't know."

I burst out laughing.

Kiran explained that he likes it when people say I don't know because it lends credibility to everything else that they've said.  He was already pretty close to making up his mind that he was coming to 42Floors, he just wanted an honest accounting of what we had answers to and what remained as questions. [italics in original]
Far from being an admission of defeat, a sign of low confidence, or a confession of unwarranted skepticism, "I don't know," can actually help us see who knows his stuff. Nobody is omniscient, but those who know something understand best of all where the limits of their knowledge lie.

-- CAV

No comments: