Don’t Climb This Mountain!

“You’re the worlds greatest authority on everything!”, “Yep, you know more than everyone else, I guess so…” Just two of my dad’s all to famous phrases in which my brothers and sister still find humour. As we were growing up, we’d hear those words and brush them off because he was dad, how much could he really know? And he really didn’t understand the things that we knew, right? Turns out his words were dead on. And as much as it pains me to admit, I did think that I knew it all, and I still operate like that sometimes.

Take Entensa, for example. As I started this company, I really did think that I knew it all. Well, not everything, but I thought the learning curve would be shallow and that the work would be manageable. And. it wouldn’t be that difficult because, after all, I knew how to sell and I’m pretty good at talking, so how hard could it be? All that I had to do was source things from some company in China, Vietnam or Indonesia and I’d be up and going in a few months. And, after a few months of sales, I’d hire a social media expert and an Ad Agency and I’d be on my way. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy, right? Uhmmm…no. There were so many things that I didn’t understand, so much that I didn’t know. Even when friends who have been successful entrepreneurs tried to tell me that I was crazy, I dismissed them, thinking that if they only knew what I knew, their viewpoint would be different. Wow, major miscalculation on my part. A few years down the road and we’re just now getting ready to launch, and my brain is in the weeds far deeper than I ever could have ever imagined. 

This isn’t the first time that something like this has happened to me, not even close. Many times I headed down a path, whether its a thing that I’m doing or a conversation that I’m having, I think that I know it all, that I’m far more knowledgeable than I actually am. And then something inevitably comes along to smack me in the face (hopefully) to show me the error of my ways. It’s a very common tale for me. And, as is typically the case, there’s actually been a study done on this type of a situation. As it turns out, I’m a prolific promoter of what’s called the Dunning-Kruger Effect. 

Dunning-Kruger Effect is basically a model that compares our level of confidence about a particular topic to our actual knowledge or ability. Many times, we learn just a tiny bit about something, and we go on, acting like we’re experts. Sound familiar? We see a headline on Twitter or Facebook, read for about 10 seconds, and figure, “Ya, that’s enough info, I got this.”, and then go about our business, believing that we’re masters of knowledge because of our whopping 15 seconds of research. Dunning-Kruger calls this part of the model, “The peak of Mt. Stupid.” But, if we continue reading or doing, we soon realise that we don’t know it all, that we’ve just scratched the surface and this thing is much, much more involved than we knew. We’re then in the Valley of Despair, which is a good place to be. Heck, I feel like I live my life there sometimes. If we continue working, reading and doing our confidence grows slowly and our ability increases. And, at that point, we’re on the Slope of Enlightenment and well on our way to the Plateau of Sustainability. That’s basically it.

Though those may not be the official names of the various stages, the principle remains the same: the more we know about a thing, the more that we realise that we don’t know. And, conversely, the less we know, the more confident we are. From time to time, I’ve wondered why, so often we, and I’m talking mainly about myself here, chose to live on the peak of Mt. Stupid. Why do we get so much confidence about something that we know so little about? I think it boils down to this: much of the time, we focus on the conclusion, on the end game, instead of the journey. Let’s face it, we live in a results oriented society, whether it’s grades, promotions, acceptance or whatever. It’s incredibly easy to mentally jump right to the end, to the desired outcome, and not fully consider the process that it takes to arrive. Take my Entesnsa example, I was so focused on selling and building, that I didn’t fully appreciate things like product variety and quality, willingness of factories to work with new manufacturers, minimum order quantities, the process of simply hiring a model during covid, and the list goes on. There was a lot that I didn’t know and that I was unwilling to look at, in spite of all of the qualified advice that I received. But that’s what many of us do, we arrive at a conclusion, or find out just a tiny bit about something, and we rush forward in full faith and trust of little but our incomplete perceptions. 

Having gaps in knowledge or experience isn’t exactly a badge of honour, but that doesn’t mean that it’s a bad thing. Unfortunately though, I think that part of the human condition is the tendency to surround ourselves with people and sources that tell us what we want to hear, *cough, 2020 Presidential election, cough*, reinforcing the ideas that we have about who we are and the world around us. At that point, the gaps in knowledge can become a bad thing that can alienate people around us at best, and, well, I’ll let you imagine the worst. It’s personally a thing that I struggle with often. But I continue to press forward, striving to realize that I really don’t even know what I don’t know. Interestingly, I’ve come to a place now where I’m now genuinely ok with being the stupidest person in the room, and it’s really freeing. Whodathunkit? Sure, I still throw out the occasional biased quip, and I still walk down metaphorical roads at night without a flashlight, but I’m much better than I used to be. Thinking about it, how could I not be better? Thinking that I got this now. It’s amazing what 15 minutes of research into the Dunning-Kruger Effect can do for a guy!