267 “We’re Not Smart Enough About That Yet”

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Knowledge makes everything simpler. That doesn’t mean it makes things easy.

Some years ago I’m visiting with a business owner. The topic? Finding other streams of revenue. It’s more than a brainstorming session. It’s strategic based on the current revenue sources.

A few ideas leap to my mind and I toss them out for consideration. The beauty of these sessions is they’re unfiltered. This is no time for bashful behavior. These are the times where uncorking can pay off.

One particular idea sparks a response from the owner. His answer formed the title for today’s podcast.

“We’re not smart enough about that yet.”

I was instantly impressed. Not at his company’s ignorance, but at his admission. True confessions are difficult for lots of entrepreneurs. Anybody who can be that candid during a session like this is probably my kind of people.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“We just don’t know enough about that technology right now to do it properly,” he said. “But we’re working on it.”

He proceeded to tell me the investments he was making in trying to get up to speed – and get his people up to speed. It was high-technology and the target learning was moving fast. He talked of “catching up.” And I could tell he was pretty committed to the effort.

“But the operative word seems to be YET,” I said.

“Yes, we’re going to get there. We’re just not ready to tackle it right now,” he responded.

“But you’ve got some target in mind or you wouldn’t be making the investment to catch up,” I replied.

Sure enough. He knew some opportunities were tied to making sure his team got up to speed on some technology that was currently outside the scope of their base knowledge. We talked about the capital and time investment they were making. We ironed out a timeline, with some mile markers of things they could do to traverse this unchartered water they were entering. They were going to be poised to launch a test within less than 90 days. A prototype product could be in beta testing within 6 months. And the opportunity could be game changing providing more revenue than all other products combined. It was an exciting adventure and I could tell most of the team was thrilled with the prospect.

If we conclude that we’re not smart enough about something (anything) yet, then it’s time to get smart!

How smart do you have to be to get started? Well, I suppose that depends on the endeavor.

The challenge is two-fold:

     a. Knowing what you don’t know
     b. Knowing what you know

That second one is much easier to quantify. But with it can come an arrogance that can hamper progress and innovation.

The other day I was talking with somebody about the differences in small business people 30 years ago versus the ones today. It was a conversation about the difference in the generations. I’m old enough to have a perspective. My observations might not be empirically correct, but anecdotally they are.

Thirty years or more ago, many small business owners I knew had a confidence most saw as necessary. “You’ve got to believe in your idea,” was the battle cry of the 1970’s when I began my career. The problem I quickly observed were business owners who would fall in love with an idea – usually their own – and they wouldn’t move off of it, or away from it. Stubbornness can be a good thing. Or a bad thing.

Resilience, determination and tenacity are great traits. But put them in a different context where a business or organizational leader refuses to budge off something that isn’t working — and they’ve got deadly potential. More than I can count I’ve seen leaders refuse to lose, in spite of the fact that their organization is getting their brains beat out. “Nope, we’re going to keep pushing forward,” says the ignorant leader who refuses to acknowledge what he or she doesn’t know. Namely, they don’t know that their idea ain’t working!

Knowing what you know can sometimes deceive us into thinking we know enough, or that we know it all. That’s why you see new comers enter spaces  and disrupt it with new, bold ideas. They’re not encumbered with past industry knowledge.

New comers have an ability – and a thirst – to figure things out. Part of that comes in asking the biggest question any of us can ask.

Why?

They also tend to be speed freaks, which I find very appealing. Today’s entrepreneurs find out fast, and they find out if they’re failing even faster. They morph, adapt and change. The favorite word is, PIVOT. They abandon what isn’t working in favor of something that will work better. My generation didn’t tend to do that so much, but it was a different time with a different time element. No Internet. No cell phones. No computers. It was much harder back in “the old days” to figure out if you’d given something a strong enough effort to know if it would make it or not. So adapting, changing and morphing took a lot longer back in the 70’s than it does today.

My experience is one reason why I am so fond of the premise of the book, The Knowing-Doing Gap. It’s about knowing what you know and doing what you know!

If you’re not going to move forward, then any excuse will do, but don’t let a lack of know-how spoil your hope of success. There are way too many resources readily available to help us prepare to take action – just taking that first step might be all we need to make success a reality. Refusing to take the first step is a surefire way to fail. Don’t get hung up thinking you’ve got to have complete knowledge.

I love today’s pace and the resources we have. Beats the snot out of by gone years! Today, you just need to know enough to take the next step. The very next step. Figure that out, then do it. And do it fast! Then figure out the next step. And the next. Keep moving as fast as you can, making adjustments along the way.

Today, you don’t need to know all the steps before taking your first one. So many people fail to start because they can’t see all the details of the finish. Forget that. Head in that direction and start.

The technology company didn’t know where this new found knowledge would take them. They had an idea of what they wanted to build based on this new knowledge, but they knew they needed to get going. They needed to start learning. Fast. So they dove in.

When boots hit the ground, the battle plan changes. We don’t want to put boots on the ground foolishly, but we don’t want to assume we know exactly what the boots are going to experience either. There’s no way we can know until we’re there.

Enter something leaders may not always consider, CONFIDENCE. Organizations and people need confidence in order to win. Weekly I encounter people who are depressed, losing morale and lamenting the future because they’ve no confidence in leadership’s ability to change. In the face of challenges, people want to see a response. They want to see the game plan adjusted.

I’m a hockey guy and we’re right now in the latter part of the conference finals to see which two teams will play for the Stanley Cup. Some of these games are close, but some are blowouts. The other night I’m watching Chicago give up 3 goals in the first period to the Anaheim Ducks. I wasn’t in that locker room between the first and second period, but I guarantee the coaching staff was giving the team some hard instructions. They were correcting things. And every player in that room was expecting that. Chicago ended up driving the game to overtime after 3 periods, so the adjustments worked. The players had to execute those adjustments.

The point is – if those coaches hadn’t made any changes the players would have lost confidence in the coaches and in themselves. They knew they weren’t playing well. What they needed from the coaches were answers to the question, WHY?

We’ve all heard a coach after a loss tell the press that there’s nothing to be learned from a loss, but that’s a lie! Every good coach knows a loss teaches far more than a win. It teaches us what DOESN’T WORK. That helps us figure out what does work. In professional hockey, it’s very common for a team to make it deep into the playoffs one year or two, before finally figuring out how to make it further. Teams will bring in veteran players who have been there before. They’ll work on team chemistry. They’ll put together pieces that may have been missing in prior years. Teams have to learn how to win! That takes some losing, but it takes the proper response to losing.

Confidence comes from learning. Speed matters. The faster you get going, the faster you get smart.

Some time ago I’m talking with a young man about an endeavor. He’s wrestling with what to do. I tell him to build it in his head first. Embrace this trait we have as humans. To project into the future. To see things as they might become. To create the future mentally.

I wanted him to do that so he could see the end before he began. But I urged him to realize that he was going to have to change once he got going. “Just figure out your next step,” I told him. “Don’t delay.”

Do what you know to do while you’re learning what you don’t know. Don’t let the “resistance” get in the way. Fend off the challenges. Learn fast. Start faster. And if there aren’t any signs of success, then stop and rethink what you’re doing.

Some resources mentioned in today’s show:

The Knowing-Doing Gap by Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton
City Government Leadership – a new endeavor I never planned, but one I’m pursuing enthusiastically
The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
BulaNetwork Facebook page (please visit me there and click that like button)
Leaning Toward Wisdom – my other podcast; it’s a modern tale of an ancient pursuit

Don’t stall. If you realize that you’re not smart enough to get started, then get smart enough to just start. The faster you get started the faster you’ll get up that learning curve. You’ll also speed up your wisdom, not to mention the cumulative effect of getting in the habit of taking action.

Thanks for listening.

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