I Don’t Know

I often find myself in new situations. That might be working with a client in an industry I’ve not worked with before. Or, with a technology I’ve not worked with before. Or, investigating a problem I’ve not previously encountered. Whatever the reason, it is something new to me.

When I first started running QW Consulting, I was terrified of these new situations because it meant I might encounter something I didn’t know. The last thing I wanted to do was utter the phrase “I Don’t Know” to a client. If I tell the client that I don’t know something, I’ll lose that client! After all, wasn’t the client hiring me because I know something about this situation?

Of course, that isn’t why the client hired me at all. What I’ve come to learn is that nearly every project will have some level of unknowns. The unknown element is the expected element. Usually, the only thing you can count on is that something unknown is going to occur. Given this, the client isn’t hiring me because I know everything. Instead, the client is hiring me because I know what those unknown pieces are going to be. Because of that, I know what gaps we need to fill in order to address those unknowns to solve the client’s problem. More important that that, I possess the skills and have the experience that will me let me find out what I currently don’t know (and find out faster than the client could without my help).

That is, the real value a professional adds isn’t an “All Knowing” power. The value is being able to look at a client’s problem and say “I know these things” and “I don’t know these things.” The even bigger value is then saying “Of the things I don’t know, here is how we are going to find out”. That ability to find out means the client will end up with a better answer, delivered faster, than they could have on their own.