You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

Walter Simonsen, a wonderful comic book artist, posted this picture to his Facebook page with the caption “Suddenly, it all makes sense!”


It made me think of a trite saying “You don’t know what you don’t know.” The first time I heard this was in a high level meeting with several aerospace engineers and a local salesperson. This was not good news at the time, but a great reminder to always take a moment to consider the aspects of a problem that I am not even aware of. It seems like a contradiction, if you don’t know what you don’t know, how can you even be aware of what you don’t know? One technique that has been useful is to calmly ask questions and actually listen to the answers. It is amazing how often customers, coworkers, and even competitors will drop hints and sometimes even just “spill the beans” about critical missing pieces of information. This technique can also provide insight into an entirely different ways of looking at a problem, a deeper order that might be present in a complex problem that simplifies and points the way to a solution. So the next time you “can’t get your head around a problem” take a moment to ask basic questions. The responses you get will definitely surprise you and might provide clues to an unexpected solution.

Leadership Lessons From the Dancing Guy

On May 17th, I reposed an article from Jason Kottke blog titled “Specialists” ( He reposted an excerpt from Kurt Vonnegut’s Bluebeard about the three types of specialists needed for the success of any revolution: the genius, the first follower who invests their reputation to validate the genius, and the explainer completes the trio and acts as an “evangelist.”

Later somebody pointed out that Derek Sivers, a revolutionary in his own right (, posted a video three years ago that demonstrated this. Jason reposted this and called it “Leadership Lessons From the Dancing Guy” ( The video itself is on YouTube (

In a sense, these three, Vonnegut, Kottke, and Sivers explained the Specialists, then acted like them. They probably won’t create a movement since these events happened at different times, they travel in different worlds, and are each geniuses in their own right, but it was a special moment to have the explanation and demonstration come together in this way.

This got me thinking about niche technology businesses and typically how poorly they leverage their uniqueness. If they are surviving in their challenging marketplaces where customers, industries, and technologies are fragmented, they are probably doing something unique and interesting. A future post will give some examples of the ways these types of companies can “get the word out” about their uniqueness and use these types of messages to increase their sales and market awareness of their brands.


Thanks to Jason Kottke for this (

From a passage of Kurt Vonnegut’s Bluebeard, the three types of specialists needed for the success of any revolution.

Slazinger claims to have learned from history that most people cannot open their minds to new ideas unless a mind-opening teams with a peculiar membership goes to work on them. Otherwise, life will go on exactly as before, no matter how painful, unrealistic, unjust, ludicrous, or downright dumb that life may be.

The team must consist of three sorts of specialists, he says. Otherwise the revolution, whether in politics or the arts or the sciences or whatever, is sure to fail.

The rarest of these specialists, he says, is an authentic genius — a person capable of having seemingly good ideas not in in general circulation. “A genius working alone,” he says, “is invariably ignored as a lunatic.”

The second sort of specialist is a lot easier to find: a highly intelligent citizen in good standing in his or her community, who understands and admires the fresh ideas of the genius, and who testifies that the genius is far from mad. “A person like this working alone,” says Slazinger, “can only yearn loud for changes, but fail to say what their shapes should be.”

The third sort of specialist is a person who can explain everything, no matter how complicated, to the satisfaction of most people, no matter how stupid or pigheaded they may be. “He will say almost anything in order to be interesting and exciting,” says Slazinger. “Working alone, depending solely on his own shallow ideas, he would be regarded as being as full of shit as a Christmas turkey.”

Slazinger, high as a kite, says that every successful revolution, including Abstract Expressionism, the one I took part in, had that cast of characters at the top — Pollock being the genius in our case, Lenin being the one in Russia’s, Christ being the one in Christianity’s.

He says that if you can’t get a cast like that together, you can forget changing anything in a great big way.