When I started out on my journey to running my own business, I had a (relatively) small world of things that I knew about being an entrepreneur, and of course that meant there was an enormous world of things which I was naively unaware of. Over time, and as my experience has grown and I have been involved in more and more situations, I am growing my sphere of influence. In other words, as my universe expands, a large number of things I didn’t even know existed have come into frame as things I need to learn about.
As former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said in his famous quote in February 2002:
There are known knowns. There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we do not know we don’t know.
So to use Donald’s words, every day I am increasing the amount of things that I know I don’t know about (known unknowns), while also — hopefully — increasing the amount of things I do know I know about (known knowns).
Rather than have this increase in known unknowns drag me down, make me feel like I was a failure, or even worse, make me give up entirely, I have used it as motivation to keep going and keep Learning. And this is a personality trait that has only developed for me in the last couple of years.
Growing up, I was one of those annoying kids at school that never paid attention, never did homework, but was consistently at the top of the class. I was ‘gifted’ (how gifted I’ll never know since I never really tried) with a photographic memory and an ability to grasp new concepts instantly. The problem was I had no interest in actually going out and “learning” new things, because everything was handed to me on a plate (i.e. the teachers told us what to learn), and so I never learned HOW to learn. I cruised through high school, cruised through university (with a few bumps), and then crashed into my first job.
The real world is where they sort out the wheat from the chaff, and I was definitely the chaff. But how? I was so intelligent at school, so why wasn’t I an instant success in the corporate environment? With a lot of self-reflection, I believe that this was due to the statement above: I knew what I knew, and never tried to learn more. Or to put it another way, I stopped learning beyond the basic requirements of my role.
Fast forward 20 years (despite being quick to pick up new concepts, I was a very slow learner at learning to learn!), and it finally clicked that I needed to go out and learn more independently of what I was learning on the job. Learn more about myself, more about my world, more about things that interest me that could make a difference (rather than just remembering 30 years of Aussie Rules Football football results!). So I began my personal journey about three years ago, which was around the same time the idea for Array was born. Slowly, slowly, it took shape and my learning increased, however, until I left the corporate world and actually committed to doing it full time, I would never really start to learn about the ‘unknown unknowns’.
I am incredibly blessed to be working with a co-founder who not only shares my values (see my post on shared values in your co-founder here), but also shares my passion for learning and expanding our knowledge universe. We are both thriving from learning all of the nuances of running your own company, like “How the **** are we going to be able to afford to build the platform?” and “Where do we even start looking for Angel Investors that are interested in a sector that half the population calls ‘Aged Care’ (it’s not), and the other half says ‘I know nothing about that sector’ (meaning we have to take half an hour explaining what Retirement Living is)!” But these questions and situations don’t get us down, they give us energy to think, to learn, to stretch ourselves, and to ultimately grow as people as we live through these experiences, and expand our knowledge as we go.
So the next time you find yourself in a situation that you never knew even existed, don’t back down. Don’t shy away from it. As Susan Jeffers says throughout her book of the same name: Feel the fear and do it anyways. Whatever the outcome, you’ll come out of it changed for the better, and your “known” universe will have expanded. Even if it is an expansion of the “known unknowns”, you will still be in a better place for it and you can use it to motivate yourself to continue to grow and learn.
Reducing the unknown unknowns was originally published in The Ascent on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.