Simple Ways to Spot Unknown Unknowns

Entrepreneurship | Career Advice | Professional Development

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  Howard George/Getty Images

Leaders face complex and uncertain situations every day: What will sales be like next year? Will our new product succeed? What will the competition do? But the most challenging circumstances are often completely unexpected, because we never even knew to look for them. (In the parlance of Donald Rumsfeld, the former U.S. secretary of defense, they’re the unknown unknowns).

After I finished my master’s degree, for instance, I was planning on a career in academia. I applied to several doctoral programs, and wondered which I’d get into. The answer: none.

I simply hadn’t realized that the exact quality that made me an ideal candidate earlier in my academic career — a “Renaissance person” who was interested in many disciplines — made me anathema to doctoral admissions committees, which were seeking hyper-specialized applicants. I didn’t know how the game was played, so I was rejected everywhere. The experience taught me an important lesson: I needed to better anticipate my blind spots. But how? Read more…

 

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