Entrepreneurs, especially in the early stages of a business, often have to be jacks of all trades. You will likely find yourself being the sales, marketing, and accounting departments all at once, doing the work of several people. However, all of that energy, enthusiasm and potential can easily be squandered if you remain unaware of the areas that require improvement, or you simply cannot handle alone.
There are of course many unknowns in business, and few certainties, but it is the “unknown unknowns” that most often spell disaster for business owners and budding entrepreneurs. This is when you come up against a challenge that is not only completely unforeseen, but also requires knowledge you simply do not possess in order to overcome it.
So, how can you know what you don’t know, and more importantly, how can this help you in your business journey?
Types of unknowns
While there will be plenty of aspects of your business that you have a handle on, the chances are there are also at least a few areas that you are less well-versed in. Understanding the types of unknowns you are up against is the first step in preparing for them when they arise.
The most straightforward we can term as “known unknowns”. These are problems that you may not currently have the answers to but have within your means the ability to find a solution for. One of the most common “known unknowns” in business centres around really getting to grips with the numbers. You have all the information you need from the data you have collected, but just need to learn how to effectively analyse it.
The second, slightly trickier area are “unknown unknowns”, which are, simply, things you do not yet realise you don’t know. These can be real stumbling blocks for entrepreneurs, as this kind of knowledge comes from gaining new insights that you would have never even thought of as an issue. This is particularly important, as gaining new perspectives and insights into your business and your approach also opens you up to new ideas and solutions.
Filling in the gaps
Entrepreneurs, especially the most successful ones, are frequently motivated by a sense of curiosity, whether through learning new skills, starting new ventures, or taking on bigger and better challenges. Being successful in business is a work-in-progress, and uncovering these gaps in your knowledge is key to becoming better at what you do.
Ignoring the possible areas where you may have knowledge gaps is far more dangerous for your business, it not only hinders creative solutions and forward planning, but also means you may not fully understand a potential risk or problem.
So, how can you go about filling in these gaps, especially when it comes to things you don’t yet know you don’t know?
Well, the first step is to make a genuine commitment to improving, and to understand that this will not happen overnight. Being patient with the process, as well as with yourself is crucial, as is getting into the habit of teaching yourself. There are a wealth of resources out there, whether it’s business books, podcasts or seminars, and the more you expose yourself to these, the more you’ll begin to fill in these knowledge gaps.
Likewise, exposing yourself to different viewpoints, especially in the form of industry experts or mentors is a powerful opportunity to uncover new insights and perspectives that you might not have ever considered.
Ultimately, for this learning process to be effective, you must be accountable for your own journey to success. This means taking the time to really understand what your own strengths and weaknesses are. It is not a sign of weakness to admit that there might be areas where something needs improving – in fact, this can only make you stronger as a business owner.
Having a good understanding of your own capabilities will allow you to uncover possible flaws in your thinking, perhaps where you assumed you had a working knowledge of something that you actually didn’t.
Finally, one of the most important things you can do as you delve into your “unknown unknowns” is to understand that it is okay to make mistakes. These are often the most powerful lessons in business, and expose you to many unexpected insights. Committing to learning from these will give you the confidence, and the knowledge, to face those difficult business situations.