If you’ve been in business for longer than ten minutes, you probably know, as Socrates did, you don’t know everything. The best part about this is, not only is this to be expected, it’s actually a good thing.
Years ago, when I was in university, I had a radio show on a local station – every Monday at 10 a.m. It was entitled Electric Entrepreneurs, an hour long show hosted by yours truly, where I would invite a local entrepreneur on to be interviewed, chat about their business, plug anything they’d like on the air, and throughout the show I would pepper in 3-4 local musicians’ music (giving favor to close friends at times). I learned a lot running this program, including how to quickly and flawlessly spell entrepreneur (small victories). Before creating the show, I had a lot of experience interviewing people thanks to my work at the newspaper, and somehow this seemed easier – people always like to talk about themselves, right? But to be responsible and prepared, as it was live radio and any awkward silence is agonizing and never goes unnoticed, I prepped a long list of questions for my first few interviews. However, I found myself deviating from the script in each of these interviews, sometimes after my very first question, and then never returning to the rest throughout the full hour.
Why was this? After thinking about it for a while, I later surmised that this was because – of course – I didn’t know everything about their business already. How could I? The person in the hot seat is the expert and I should treat them as such, I shouldn’t act as though I know exactly what to ask before talking with them. When thinking about it later, creating what I thought to be a complete list of questions presented itself to be almost arrogant. So, I embraced my ignorance and for the rest of my time as host of Electric Entrepreneurs, I came to each show holding three broad questions….two broad questions…no questions at all. I did some research on the guest, sure, but I’m the one who invited them on the show after all, so there was some level of understanding on what they did. But the reason I didn’t prep the questions ahead of time was mostly for the listeners and the quality of the show overall. I wanted to ensure we had a genuine conversation with my guests, and ask the questions that the listeners at home who really don’t know anything about this person, would ask. Some guests found this highly irregular and it made them anxious, “we’re going to do a full hour and you don’t have any questions ready?” Nope, and we’re live, “Hey everyone and welcome back to Electric Entrepreneurs…” While others had a sparkle in their eye when I told them this fact and seemed to take it as a welcomed challenge (I choose to believe all these individuals went on to achieve great success).
I believe my point here is directly transferable to those of you starting a new business – myself included. Don’t let people make you believe that you must know all the answers right out of the gate. In some cases, the fact that you don’t know much at all can actually give you an advantage, try new things, fail a million times, and relish in your successes no matter how few they may be, and most importantly, always ask for help. A mentor of mine always reminded me that people are usually inclined to help those who seek it out, and if you don’t ask – you’ve already said no for them.
Finally, embrace your ignorance, be prepared of course, but never act like you know something that you don’t. It is never shameful to ask for help, neither is it looked down on to admit you don’t know something, quite the contrary. So, apply this to your business tomorrow and see where it takes you – be like Socrates…except for the last part… stay away from hemlock.
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