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Here’s What I Know: Never Assume the ‘Unknown Knowns’ in Business

The ‘Unknown Knowns’ in the World of Business

Sometimes a business question occurs to me and I think to myself that the answer is pretty obvious, pretty clear cut; and so I’ll go ahead and work on my assumptions. Sometimes I’ve seen it before and so I think I know the answer. Sometimes I’ve done it before and so I know the answer. As Donald Rumsfeld famously said, there are “known knowns,” “known unknowns,” and there are also “unknown unknowns.” In the world of geopolitics, the last are the most dangerous, he explained. I’d add another category to further confuse the picture: there are also “unknown knowns.” In the world of business, they’re the most dangerous.

Never Assume

Stepping away from Rumsfeld-esque tongue twisters, what do I mean? I mean that in business, it isn’t the things you don’t know that trip you up; you’re aware you don’t know them and so you’ll seek help, advice, support. You’ll find someone who does know the unknown to help sort it out for you. The most dangerous thing in business is to assume something. It’s when you think you know something and so you go ahead, but in fact, you don’t actually know the answer. You make an assumption and it’s the wrong one. You don’t ask the right questions. Worse, you don’t ask any questions. You don’t check the lie of the land. You just press ahead blindly. These “unknown knowns” are the things that can bring businesses down. In the real world, answers aren’t always clear-cut. In fact, I’d go as far as to say they’re very rarely clear-cut. As a business leader, you need to be in a constantly questioning frame of mind and never take anything for granted.

Look at the Data

Data is key because it tells you when—despite all your experience and everything you’ve seen before—the market isn’t behaving in the way you expect it to. It tells you when things are changing out there, so you need to change too and move with it. So, mind your data, read your data, and trust your data. It’s your main indicator of the health of your business. That’s not to say that you should be indecisive or hesitant as a business owner, but it does mean you need to ask questions before making informed decisions rather than acting on assumptions. Use your experience, but don’t let it be your only guide when moving forward. For example, some of the issues we cover in this month’s In the Loop might, at first view, seem very clear-cut. How to terminate an employee the right way. Can I make deductions from an employee’s pay? You may even have dealt with these issues before. But the point is that they aren’t as straightforward as you might think. In the fast-changing and complex area of employment relations, it’s quite simply a minefield and one you can never assume you can navigate alone. So, if you’ve got that niggling voice at the back of your mind about any employment relations issue, then give us a call. Even if you’ve seen it before or dealt with it before, still give us a call. Get that reassurance, get that advice and get a paper trail in place. That’s what we’re here for and that’s where we can help. Never assume, but just get on the phone to our advice line and talk it through. Call 1 (833) 247-3652 and make sure that those unknowns are definitely known.