“So I think we should definitely buy this startup. It’s a lion in disguise of a lap cat”, concludes Kim, the head of your company’s newly established unit for digital entrepreneurial sustainable innovative revolutionary engineering (d.e.s.i.r.e)*. All eyes are on you. You don’t know. You suspect that regulatory and technological risks have not been thoroughly assessed. You vaguely recall a newspaper article about another startup from somewhere in Africa, with a much stronger customer base. You have questions about the startup’s staff, apparently consisting mostly of former mountaineers , bull fighters, and racing car drivers.
You are the boss. You remember Kim saying that the startup’s founder once climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. One of the few literary quotes you know by heart is a paragraph from Hemingway’s “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”. It ends with: “And then he knew that there was where he was going”.
You say: “Yes, we should definitely buy it”.
Most leaders got to where they are because they knew something. Some had a stronger vision of the destination than others, some had a better knowledge of the terrain. Some had a more refined compass, and some were better at reading maps. Some were more skillful in choosing their company, and some had more stamina, patience or luck. They knew what they knew, and this got them promoted to lead others.
However, once in a leadership role, all leaders have to get used to the fact that everybody they now lead knows at least something – and often a lot! – they themselves don’t know. And most likely, some of those others even know stuff better that, once upon a time, the leaders knew best – if only because technologies evolve, processes change, laws are adapted, and times move on.
Then and there, Hemingway’s Harry knew that Mount Kilimanjaro was where he was going. Today, you knowing that he knew says nothing about whether your company should or should not buy the startup presented by Kim from d.e.s.i.r.e.
As a leader, only by knowing what you don’t know you’ll be able to help others be clear about what they know – and what they don’t know. And only by being mutually transparent about who knows what and who doesn’t, will you and your colleagues collectively be able to make the best possible decisions.
You say: “Do you know Hemingway?”. Kim and all your colleagues look at you with puzzled eyes. “The writer”, you say. “He said: ‘There’s no one thing that’s true. It’s all true’. So let’s pause a moment and think: What would we have to know to be true in order to not buy this startup?”
* This is the first of a series of blog posts exploring some uniquely motivating mindfully elaborated ramblings (s.u.m.m.e.r.) of mine, written during my summer vacation in 2019, investigating topics and trends relevant for leaders in today’s multilayered world. All persons, situations, and dialogues quoted are purely fictional, albeit informed by what I see happening in companies I work with. If you want to know what I do when I work, read more here and here [retrieved July 9, 2019].
Respond to s.u.m.m.e.r. i: knowing