Paul Witkay in Smart Business: “Why Entrepreneurs Should Never Believe They Know it All”

September 01, 2015

When I created my first company in 1979 and had my first entrepreneurial experience, I developed what I called the “Power of Ignorance.”

My concept of ignorance was not to be taken literally — intelligence does matter. The Power of Ignorance, however, was a mindset that caused me to seek out every expert I could find and pick his or her brain. In doing so, I discovered that people were very willing to share their knowledge — particularly with someone who sincerely wanted to learn.

This experience is why I found Liz Wiseman’s latest best-seller Rookie Smarts, so absorbing. Wiseman, who also wrote Multipliers, proposes in her new book that the “critical skill of this century is not what you hold in your head, but your ability to tap into and access what other people know.”

In the process of writing Rookie Smarts, Wiseman studied the traits of many highly successful leaders and found they shared a set of traits: “an insatiable curiosity, a humility that makes them lifelong students, and a playful but intentional approach to achieving their goals.”

To break down these definitions a little further:
 ■  Curiosity — Highly successful leaders have a thirst for understanding that grows from a deep-seated belief that “what you don’t know is more interesting than what you do know.”
 ■  Humility — The first step to learning is accepting that we don’t know everything. The best leaders believe they can learn something from anyone and are not concerned about appearing to be “ignorant.
 ■  Playful approach — Leaders with a thirst for learning don’t need to leave work to play — their work becomes play and people simply enjoy working with them.

Wiseman also identified four sets of behaviors that differentiate leaders:

Backpackers vs. Caretakers
Caretakers tend to protect the status quo while Backpackers explore new possibilities and find new approaches.

Hunter-Gatherers vs. Local Guides
Local Guides look for data that confirms what they already know and are happy to offer their advice. Hunter-Gatherers acknowledge they are new so they seek help and create collaborative teams to address their challenges.

Firewalkers vs. Marathoners
Marathoners move at a steady, comfortable pace while Firewalkers operate with a sense of urgency and take calculated but quick steps and seek feedback.

Pioneers vs. Settlers
Settlers rely on available resources and strive for comfort but Pioneers push boundaries, improvise and maintain a hungry mentality.

Famed UCLA basketball coach John Wooden once said that “it’s what we learn after we know it all that really counts.”  I recommend we train ourselves to never succumb to the temptation of thinking we actually know what we’re doing.