I laughed when the then Secretary of Defense made that statement as it sounded like a military-speak aphorism. But, it rings with profound wisdom the more I deal with career management and employment issues in this economy.
How do we deal with the business and career issues we don't know we don't know?
I advise my clients to do deep research on companies for interview preparation, but that never, within time parameters, uncovers sufficient information to make a well reasoned decision on an offer if one comes. Sometimes it is the luck of the draw that you land well. What do you do with networking referrals devoid of context or personal engagement? You are left in a vacuum to deal with the referral and in the dark as to how to proceed.
Time is so precious. You know it if you are in a driven high-pressure position, in career transition, or an entrepreneur. There isn't enough of it, and your living comes from the finite amount of time that you can dedicate to your business. We don't have time to be sidetracked with the unknowns that we don't know.
What's worse is that we don't know what we don't know until it is past tense. Often in retrospective, we can look back at an entire situation and see what we needed to know at the time. I believe that is the Monday morning quarterback syndrome personified.
Unfortunately, I don't know what to advise you as I don't know what you don't know. But I do have a few mental guidelines that help me and I am happy to share them.
Everyday is Groundhog Day
Remember the Bill Murray movie where he relived the same day over and over again until he actually had no unknowns left to figure out. Seriously! He ended up knowing everybody in the town and everything they were going to do that day. His level of response by his final rerun day was masterful.
I try to remind myself that every day is essentially the same. Within each day there will always be unknowns that are unknown. The result of that attitude is not ending up feeling blindsided as I have already factored that in. When I stay very attuned and mindful I can almost sense them coming out of left field. It is comforting at least.
Belts and Braces
The British, bless them, had an unspoken rule about being prepared for the unknowns in life. Back in Victorian times and the early part of the last century, men work both a belt and braces (suspenders). Over time and the era of spandex and jeans below your butt, the braces have fallen by the wayside. But belts and braces represented a way of approaching life.
The message is clear, expect catastrophe and be doubly prepared: keep an umbrella in the car, hide a house key under a rock, back up your files...twice. You may never need to implement plan B but it's good to know that you can. Think about it. That's why we have a Vice President of the United States.
The Morning After the Night Before
Letting decisions stew a bit is a good thing. Figuratively, "sleeping" on business problems and issues allows time to have more information unfold and it diminishes the number and size of unknowns.
There are certain Myers Briggs personalty types that are really in their comfort zone when they get things decided, goals set, and marching orders relayed to the troops in an expedited fashion. They rush to judgement and freak out when the other shoe drops with unforeseen catastrophes.
Other personality styles prefer to put off decisions and just let things unfold. Often that is the best remedy for those blindsiding unknowns. Just let them sort of slide into view rather than dropping on you.
Embrace the Unknown
The greatest adventures, opportunities and joys in life are most sweet when they have not been predicted, expected, and factored in. Aren't the unknown unknowns often some of the nicest, best surprises that come upon us. We just think that any unknown will be necessarily be bad, negative and undesired.
If life is like a box of chocolates then it helps to be an epicurian with a broad palette. Thus you are delighted with whatever you find in the box. The unknown unknowns will always show up in our lives. The impact they have depends on how we choose to experience them.