Last week during my work commute, I was listening to Seth Godin’s Entre Leadership podcast about change. Seth mentions that being “unprepared” is good because it opens the gate to a new world! It is a revealing insight. Of course, no one ever feels fully prepared for all the events that may unfold in our uncertain future. All of us would remember some particularly anxious occasions when we felt utterly unprepared. Yet, today’s business world pays enormous premium for loud confidence, even if it is based on flimsy facts and admitting unpreparedness is looked down upon in the competitive environment.
In this context, it is interesting to understand the knowledge grid below and its relationship to the preparedness:
“I know that I know” (the green zone) is always the safest environment! We never feel unprepared in the green zone. How much we wish we always resided inside the security offered by the awareness that we know everything about what is going on around us! I don’t know about you, but for me, such moments have been rare to come by – especially, in today’s world of fast change and abundance of data! When I feel, I am in the green zone, I tend to ask myself whether my feeling (that I know that I know) is based on reality or am I being delusional. A little reality check never hurts!
The most anxiety-filled condition is when we feel completely out-of-sorts and unprepared … when we feel “I know that I don’t know” (the orange zone). Awareness about our lack of knowledge about a situation can be quite unsettling; at times, unnerving! And yet, this is the situation of feeling unprepared that Seth Godin was saying is good for us. How can that be true?
Here is how I look at it. First and foremost, being aware of one’s ignorance keeps you away from many a embarrassing situations. The orange zone is also the gateway to the endless possibilities. It is an invitation for an exploration! Every such moment when you know that you don’t know offers you an opportunity to learn something new. If you are prepared to trade some ego in exchange of new knowledge, the color of orange zone can be that of a new sun rising on the horizon.
And guess what, During the exploration of the unknown, we might actually stumble upon the yellow zone of “I don’t know that I actually knew this”! Life, often times, moves is circles and in my career, I have come across several deja vu situations when I am confronted with familiar issues, albeit in different contexts. And, all of a sudden, it has dawned upon me that feeling unprepared is not necessarily the same as being unprepared. We need to reach back into the database of our prior experiences that we knowingly or unknowingly gather. A number of times, life has reminded me of my dad’s habit of testing my math concepts by twisting the same question in many different ways. One can face the feeling of unpreparedness with much greater confidence with the knowledge that the celestial power might after all just be testing your concepts!
The biggest challenge that can (and will) trip us is the red zone and funnily, we don’t feel unprepared while dwelling in the red zone yet we, in fact, are unprepared! It is the zone where we are not even aware of our own ignorance – we don’t know what we don’t know. Being acutely aware about the existence of this zone is the first step in navigating it. But one also needs to shed one’s ego, surround oneself with honest friends, invite diverse opinions, be quick to learn and to be agile enough to improvise. That and that alone can help a business leader to navigate the red zone … and be truly prepared!