How knowing what you DON’T know makes you more successful

know what you DON'T know

When they offered Albert Einstein the presidency of Israel, his reaction was genius. ‘Not a good idea’, he said (in his own words), ‘I’ve done more math than I ever worked on my people skills, so I’d better not manage an entire country.’ THAT’s nailing it: knowing what you DON’T know is personal leadership. Here’s some theory and experience on how this is works towards being successful and how ignoring it leads to ugly trouble.

Spotify tip while reading this post:

How can you trust a thing that wasn’t looked at from multiple perspectives? If architects ignore engineer’s input in favor of aesthetics, buildings collapse (it happens!). Doctors analyzing symptoms must ask questions and draw a complete picture of their patients, before prescribing heavy-duty medicines. You can’t know everything, but you might damn well be somewhat thorough if you want to do things right.

Balanced teams are varied teams

I’d dare say this goes for everything in life. Not only in doing grand things like presidencies we’d better be open minded to ace it. We are generally much wiser if we consult the people around us. Ever won Trivial Pursuit on your own? It’s no secret that balanced teams consisting of various types of people get better results than homogenous teams. It’s why we mistrust leaders eliminating employees voicing opposite opinions. And on the opposite, it’s why employees who actively engage in brainstorms gather more complete views of any problem. They’re more likely to come up with the best answers.

So in wondering, do you already brainstorm like a pro? Do you regularly ask for other people’s opinions? Do you know what you don’t know?

Making a move

Recently, I made quite a large decision at work. The opportunity arose to switch teams where I’m able to contribute to some seriously kick-ass projects. So I weighted my options. I decided to speak with various people around me, colleagues, my manager, friends. They helped me picture all the variables, the pro’s, cons, and everything in between. When even the person most affected by my decision supported my decision –if I made it for the right reasons, namely my gut-feeling–  I made my move: I announced my switch.

That’s when one of my close colleagues pulled a dissatisfied face and, without further ado, judged my decision. He told me what a mistake it was to hurt the team. And stopped coming over for small talk. This went on for weeks, after which the only added communication was: ‘Oh, and other people sure feel the same way!’ Ouch, man, seriously?

Various perspectives: a constructive strategy

Personal feelings aside, there’s one thing about this reaction that seems un-strategic: I realized that my colleague never asked me one thing about the switch. He didn’t ask how I came to my decision or which variables I took in. He went on to a judgment. And while at it, he seemed to reject the possibility that the switch made sense from another perspective.

This is un-strategic, as it shuts down cooperation, eliminates trust, and damages the work relationship on the long term. It is a lose-lose for everyone this way.

Conflict as inspiration

Not completely lose-lose, though. It inspired me! As I can’t change my colleague’s reaction, I can choose my own reaction to it. It reminded me how important it is to include other people’s views. For being aware that we don’t see it all. Otherwise we’re going to miss stuff, take bad decisions, damage relationships, become an Israeli president short on people skills. Admitting that we don’t know it all is human. And it’s actually wiser. I’m totally fine with it.

And you? What’s your take on this?


Read more on sources of inspirations here.

Good to see you! I'm Yvette, founder & editor at Museologue. This place serves you stories on cool careers, bold life choices, mind buzzing art, personal leadership, travel, and all the other inspiring things people do and create!
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