In the classic sci-fi spoof “Men in Black,” Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) tells NYC police Detective James Edwards (Will Smith), who discovered a space alien living on Earth: “Fifteen hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on this planet. Imagine what you’ll know tomorrow.”
Along those same lines, I’ve read that the early 20th Century humorist Will Rogers once said, “It’s not the things we don’t know that get us into trouble, it’s the things we know that ain’t so.”
Now, I’m not an alien hunter or a humorist, but in my work with independent advisory firm owners, I have found Rogers’ words to be surprisingly true. Of course, we’ve all had tightly held beliefs or ideas that we’ve found to be not quite as “right” as we thought. Sometimes they can really mess up our lives, but when we own a business, our strongly held ideas can cause real problems. To succeed, it’s essential that we know what we don’t know.
As I’ve written before, every advisory firm is a work in progress. That progress comes from learning, primarily through trial and error. That’s because every firm is different. The owners are different, the employees are different and the clients are different.
While we business consultants have seen many things that worked and many that didn’t, we never really know what will work in a particular firm, and neither do the owners. To successfully run and grow an advisory firm, it’s essential that the owners know what they know and what they don’t know — and take steps to learn what they need to know.
Of course, it’s human nature to pretend we know things that we don’t, partly out of ego and partly out of insecurity. But either way, when a business leader does it, it can be harmful or even fatal for their business.