The Limits of Your Knowledge
I don’t know everything.
That might sound like an obvious statement, and I would hope that every other person would be willing to admit as much, too. But even after acknowledging the limits of your knowledge, what are you doing about it?
Because I don’t know everything, I make it a priority to keep on learning new things and getting smarter. Because I don’t know everything, I seek out other people who have knowledge I’m lacking and get their advice and insight. Because I don’t know everything, I approach problems with humility, working collaboratively with my team to figure out the best approach, and regularly evaluating our progress to see what we may need to change.
Drew Houston, the founder and CEO of Dropbox, recently was interviewed by Adam Bryant for his regular New York Times Corner Office column, and he talked about some of these same ideas, and really spurred on my own thinking about them over the past few days.
He describes one of his early leadership lessons in his business as “having a healthy paranoia for trying to find out what you don’t know that you don’t know. The question I would ask myself—even in the beginning, and I still do today—is, six months from now, 12 months from now, five years from now, what will I wish I had been doing today or learning today?”
His solution? Read. There are a lot of smart people who have written great things that are out there for you to read and get their best thinking, all just by investing some time to read and think about what they’re saying. You might not be able to personally call up and chat with all these people, but you can still access their thinking in different ways.
And learning isn’t just important for the boss. It’s important for every member of the team, too. Here’s how Drew Houston describes his approach to hiring: “I’ll also ask, what have you learned in the last year? And if you were able to sit yourself down 10 years ago, what advice would you give your younger self? What are the most important lessons you’ve taken away?”
The desire and ability to keep on learning things is so important. You can’t just reach a level and be satisfied with where you are; you have to keep on going. Today I’m 76 years old, and I’ve been starting and building businesses for 50 years—and I’m still learning new things! It doesn’t end just because you have some measure of success, or because you’ve been doing it long enough, or for any other reason. None of us knows everything, and we never will. There’s always something more to learn, something more that can enrich our lives and give us greater insight into our business and life itself.