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Leadership Qualities

Attention Entrepreneurs: Use Ignorance to Your Advantage

Guest Writer
President of Professionalism Matters
4 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Most entrepreneurs don't talk about their insecurities, but everyone has them. One huge insecurity is simply the fear of having no idea what they are doing. They may have an area of expertise that propelled them to start a business, but entrepreneurship requires skills in so many other areas that almost every founder is faced with domains where they're pretty ignorant.  The good news is that in many ways, ignorance can actually be an asset.  The most successful entrepreneurs don’t run from what they don’t understand but instead embrace it and use their inexperience as a tool to help them move into unchartered (and often scary) territory.

As a nascent business owner myself, I had a very similar experience.  I’d been delivering professional-development training courses for a few years, and I was frequently embarrassed by some of the training videos that I showed during my courses, as many were produced in the '80s. I decided I would no longer use purchased training videos, I would just produce my own. After all, how hard could it be? I came to find it, it was extremely challenging. Ignorant does not begin to describe my lack of understanding of the video-production process. I understood the content -- how to teach others to improve their meetings -- but that was just a small component. I had no idea the other 95 percent of what I needed to know to actually produce my own training DVDs.  Years later, as I reflected on the experience and the amazing final product, I am grateful that I’d stuck it out through a gut-wrenching process. I am certain my complete ignorance ironically became my saving grace.  Had I known how complicated and difficult the process could be, I’m almost certain I would not have embarked on it in the first place. 

Related: 4 Critical Traits of Great Leaders

Even though ignorance can be the blanket over the horse’s eyes that enables him to walk through the fire, none of us really seek ignorance (no one would).  The question becomes this: As an entrepreneur when you find yourself in that uncomfortable territory of not knowing enough to make smart decisions (or even ask smart questions) what do you do?  Here are a few tips to consider:

Don’t try to pretend.  Admit what you don’t know (at least to yourself).

Evaluate your ignorance. Determine whether your ignorance is a complete roadblock or just an orange cone that you might need to maneuver around.  If your ignorance is a show stopper, then stop the show!

Decide how you can close the gap. When you are in uncharted territory, there are a few options to help you maneuver this area. You can bring someone else on board or outsource the task, seek training or additional experience to get up to speed or revise the scope of the effort to reduce your skill gap. If possible, start small.

Related: The One Thing That Successful Business Leaders Have in Common

Look for help. Seek a mentor who has expertise in the area where you need assistance.

Lean on others. Another strategy is to barter with colleagues to enhance your skill set.

A subtle but important trait of the most successful entrepreneurs is the ability to manage uncertainty and strategically problem solve (even when all the information is not available).  In my experience as a small-business owner, rarely are situations ideal.  I seldom know everything I need to know to move forward in a rapidly changing business environment.  I’m certain that a large part of my success has been my willingness to embrace the reality that as long as I’m wearing 14 hats at once, I will continue to scratch my head more than I’d like.  

Related: 4 Ways to Look Like an Expert When You're Just Starting Out

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