You Don’t Know, What You Don’t Know


Don't Know Photo

A person’s knowledge base is entirely dependent on their personal life experiences.  What did they study in school?  What did they learn in their jobs?  Who are they networked with?  What challenges have they had to solve?  etc.   In your business decision making, you are typically tapping into those past experiences to help guide you.  And, when you don’t know the answer to something you know you need, you are typically smart enough to do a little digging, ask the right questions and track it down.  But, there are two problems with this.

Firstly, notice I said “something you know you need”.  Unfortunately, in most scenarios, there is a wide range of other answers you need, but you just didn’t know it, because your life’s experiences haven’t yet brought them to your attention.  And, secondly, even if you asked the right, all-encompassing questions upfront, people are typically task-oriented, and once they have “checked the box” (in terms of answering those questions), they typically move on to the next task and never revisit those same questions down the road.  Which in today’s rapidly evolving world, can be a huge mistake.

The points here are, you are never stopping learning, and your quest for information should be part of your everyday process . . . not just checking off tasks from your list.  This includes revisiting key questions you have asked in your past, to see if anything is different, today, that can materially impact your business.  And, surrounding yourself by new people who may have something valuable to contribute to the discussion around your business.  This could simply be more networking in your local business community, or finding mentors for your business, preferably with people who have a far broader base of experience than your own.

Let me give a couple real life examples.  I was working with one client that was in the marketing technology space.  They had built a world class solution around one vertical of marketing several years earlier.  But, that was a different time, when enterprise brands were organizing their marketing departments around specific marketing verticals (e.g., digital, stores, catalog).  Today, only a few years later, those same companies are employing omni-channel marketing strategies, breaking down the marketing silos.  So, the company’s product today, although good for its vertical, needs to be completely rethought as it how it fits within designing an omni-channel marketing strategy, seamlessly sharing consumer data between the other verticals.

To further compound matters, this same client had built the core features of their business years earlier.  And, although they were cutting edge at the time, in a space with few competitors, today the market was ripe with new competitors that were nipping at their heels, with solutions that better than my client’s solutions and taking market share away.  The flaw in my client’s logic was the material investment in the product was behind them, and they could move those product investment budgets into other areas of the company.  When the reality is, product development is a never-ending process where the product needs to continue to innovate, each and every year, or it will die.

And, if that wasn’t enough, my client’s customers were shifting what they really wanted out of solutions in this marketing vertical.  It was less about the features and functionality, and more about helping their customers make better data-driven business decisions.  And, this client had nothing to offer its customers in this regard, and needed to quickly catch up.

So, for all you startup CEOs out there, your learning is never done, and your innovation is never over.  Surround yourself by smart people who know a lot more than you do, take off your historical blinders, replace them with a perpetual thirst for new knowledge and start with fresh thinking about your business each and every year.  The key word being THINKING, about what don’t you know about your business that you should.



Reprinted by permission

Image credit: CC by George Deeb

About the author: George Deeb

George Deeb is a managing partner at Red Rocket Ventures, a Chicago-based startup consulting and fundraising firm with expertise in advising Internet-related businesses. More of George’s startup lessons can be read at “101 Startup Lessons — An Entrepreneur’s Handbook.”

You are seconds away from signing up for the hottest list in New York Tech!

Join the millions and keep up with the stories shaping entrepreneurship. Sign up today.