The other day I sat on a resource panel at the US Air Force Academy. Ron, one of my co-panelists kept telling the class of transitioning veterans that “You don’t know what you don’t know” and added that they needed to ask for assistance even if they think they have it all under control. While Ron is with the USO Pathfinders program and helps vets find jobs after they get out, I could not agree more with Ron’s comment especially when it comes to entrepreneurship.
Most entrepreneurs were good at performing the technical portions of the work before they started their business. They are used to being viewed as the expert in their field and having people come up to them for advice. Unfortunately, business acumen is very different than the more tangible tasks performed by the technician as we discussed in the post “Is Your Business Persona Aligned for Success as a Business Owner.”
No one likes to admit their ignorance. As entrepreneurs, we want to project that we have it all under control. Admitting to ourselves that we do not know all the answers chips away at our self-confidence. Moreover, we want our friends, family to employees to see us as incredibly smart and in control so they will listen to and follow us. While we may envy others that are smarter than us, it also makes us feel inferior being around them.
I recently read an article that Facebook makes many people feel depressed as many users see great things happening to their friend and upon self-reflection feel that they are lagging.
What I see is that many entrepreneurs prefer to search for answers online because such actions are private rather than admitting to someone that they do not know something. This is an unfortunate and undesirable side effect of self-confidence, a common entrepreneurial trait. Rather than admit ignorance to another person, many entrepreneurs will either not follow up on an idea or seek to try to find answers in books or blogs. While trying to solve their own problems prevents us from bruising our often fragile egos, not knowing what you don’t know sinks many startups.
For example, many entrepreneurs ask the question “How do I create an LLC?” There are many online resources that exist to describe the actual process of creating an LLC. Unfortunately, if you were to ask me that question as a mentor, I’d respond with a series of follow up questions before trying to answer the question to determine if being an LLC is, in fact, the right entity for you. Must nascent entrepreneurs fail to ask the right question or understand how one decision affects others?
What I have noticed is the successful entrepreneur recognizes the fact that when it comes to business acumen they are in the deep end of the pool and ask for assistance from others. Rather the hangout with a crowd where they are always the smartest person in the room, they expose themselves to the company of smarter people. Rather than choose to leave such an encounter feeling dumb, they look at it as a way to continue to learn.
So, rather than guard your ego by limiting your associations to inferior thinkers, successful founders who want to be successful need to set their egos aside and ask for help from mentors and consultants that have more knowledge than themselves.
Are you more focused on preventing a bruised ego or engaging with smarter people as a way to continue to learn?
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