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Dennis Zink: Bonnie, let’s start off with a question that may be obvious to some people.  Why should business owners want to know or learn what they don’t know?

Bonnie Seitzinger: In my view, this is one of the key factors in growing a business.  As business owners, we want to prevent problems before they happen.  I use the analogy the way we treat our bodies, we eat well, we take supplements and exercise as preventative measures to developing long-term health conditions, it’s the same with our businesses.  We need to learn as much as we can about what it is we do not know so we can prevent problems before they occur and take action to change things before the environment or other factors changes around us. 

We can’t know everything with absolute certainty, but we can feel confident about certain things.  Now I’ll go out on a limb here and say that the majority of businesses fail because business owners have a mindset of knowing more than they really know, whether the problem is undercapitalization, lack of quality or even lack of human resource knowledge, all examples of things we may have felt we knew but perhaps we were not open enough to learn what we didn’t know. 

There are many important principles to sustaining and growing a business.  It’s human nature to gravitate to learn about what interests us.  We don’t always take the steps to learn what we don’t know beyond our interests.  A common example of this is business owners generally stay technical in their industry,  Their passion, background and how they got started in business may be what they concentrate on; that may however not have them up to speed in other aspects of their business.  That brings about the need to know what you don’t know. 

There’s a learning model developed in the 1970’s and it describes the four stages of learning, going from incompetence to competence.  The first stage, unconscious competence, is not knowing what you don’t know.  The next stage is conscious competence, which is knowing you have a deficit and knowing the value of developing skills to address that deficit.  What we want to talk about today is both the not knowing as well as developing the skills to be in the know. 

Dennis Zink: Where should someone start when they decide to learn more about what they don’t know?

Bonnie Seitzinger: We have a broad range of possibilities.  What I always like to see is a mindset of continuous improvement.  One of the success principles in Jack Canfield’s book refers to commit to constant and never-ending improvement.  This never-ending improvement can be in many forms, in both tangible and intangible ways. 

Today it’s easier than ever to absorb the latest leadership and management thinking as well as so many other business topics, from finance to HR to process improvement.  It’s all out there; YouTube, totally no cost; there are such fabulous books read by their authors.  We have TED talks and university lectures, all online.  

Download the full interview above or listen to the podcast to learn more about knowing what you don't know.