How would you know what you don't know?


You find great opportunities in areas of unknown unknowns

In 1955, two American psychologists Joseph Lutz and Harrington Ingham created a technique to help people understand themselves better, and how they interact with others. They created a table as such:

This is now affectionately termed the Johari Window.

There are four panels in this window, each corresponding to items of information that are either known or unknown to self, and known or unknown to others. Take a look at the top left hand panel. Information in this one is known to self, and known to others. It is termed arena because it is clear for all to see. For example, "I am a man." That is known to me and known to others. "I am a fast worker." This is also arena because I know, and everyone who works with me knows, that I work quickly.

I would like to focus on the right hand column, the grey and blue panels that constitute what we don't know. The grey panel contains information that are unknown to us but are known to others. This refers to our blind spots. For example, I know of a CEO who was constantly in competition with his senior managers, but he was blind to that. It became so bad that his senior managers actually took advantage of the situation and manipulated him into giving them what they wanted without him ever being any the wiser. This is a huge blind spot which, if left unchecked, can lead to loads of manipulation.

The blue panel - unknown unknowns - offers areas for growth. After all, if everyone is ignorant of a known fact, it becomes opportunity for someone to take advantage of, and ultimately, profit, in a business setting.

Here are 5 simple steps to start uncovering what you - and others - don't know...

1. Ask "stupid" questions

Don't simply pull ideas out of thin air. Instead take a known position and turn it on its head, asking sometimes ridiculous questions like, "What if I sold furniture to people who have to assemble them all by themselves?" This "stupid" question became the basis for Ikea.

2. Put them to the test

See if you cannot come up with the process to prove your "stupid" idea. By starting with the back of the napkin thoughts, run them by as many people as you can, seeing their reactions to the idea, and listening to other suggestions.

3. Make a prototype

It doesn't have to be a physical item; even an animated video, or a sketch, or a comic strip, would count as a prototype. This is the high-level output that people can get their head around the concept, especially after you received some valuable feedback from Step 2.

4. Protect the idea

Once you have a good enough concept, protect the idea. The last thing you'd want is someone coming along, liking your idea, and then running away with it simply because you didn't get it protected. The world is small - protect your ideas!

5. Put it out there

Unfortunately, this is not the end of the journey. You'd have to start making the item, and as they always say, the devil is in the details. When you step through the process, you will have to come and go, change things around, ditch even your best idea at the time, so that you can make it happen. Yet, there is no better way to do this, and the growth mindset will help fuel the process.

So how do you know what you don't know? Start by asking "stupid" questions.

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