People's knowledge base is entirely dependent on their personal life experience. What did they study in school? Learn in their jobs? Whom do they network with? What challenges have they had to solve? In your business decision-making, you are also tapping into those past experiences to help guide you.
Related: The Benefits of Learning as a Team
And, when you don’t know the answers, you are hopefully smart enough to do a little digging, ask the right questions and track down what you know you need. But, there are two problems with this.
First, notice I said “what you know you need.” Unfortunately, in most scenarios, there is a wide range of other answers you need; you just don't know it because your life’s experiences haven’t yet brought them to your attention.
Second, even if you asked the right, all-encompassing questions, you, like most people, are likely task-oriented. So, once you've “checked the box” (to answer those questions), you'll typically move on to the next task and never revisit those same questions down the road.
And that, in today's rapidly evolving world, can be a huge mistake.
The point here is, you should never stopping learning, and your quest for information should be part of your everyday process . . . not just checking off tasks from your list. Instead, revisit key questions you have asked in your past, to see if today anything is different that might materially impact your business. Also, surround yourself with new people who may have something valuable to contribute to the discussion around your business.
Let me offer a real-life example. I was working with one client in the marketing-technology space. Several years earlier, these people had built a world-class solution around one vertical of marketing. But, that was a different time, when enterprise brands were organizing their marketing departments around specific marketing verticals (e.g., digital, stores, catalog).
Now, only a few years later, those same companies are employing omni-channel marketing strategies, breaking down those old marketing silos. So, my client company’s product today, although good for its vertical, needed to be completely rethought. How would it now fit within the design for an omni-channel marketing strategy, so it could seamlessly share consumer data among the other verticals?
To compound matters, this same client had built the core features of its business years earlier. And, although those features had been cutting edge at the time, when there were few competitors, today's market was -- and is -- ripe with new competitors nipping at this company's heels, with solutions better than my client’s and liable to take market share away.
The flaw in my client’s logic was that its material investment in the product was "behind' it, and it could move those product-investment budgets into other areas. But the reality was and is, that product development is a never-ending process where the product needs to continue to innovate, each and every year, or it will die.
As if that weren't enough, my client’s customers were shifting what they really wanted out of solutions in this marketing vertical. So, the challenge my client faced was less about the features and functionality and more about helping customers make better data-driven business decisions.
Frankly, this client had nothing to offer its customers in this regard, and needed to quickly catch up.
So, for all you startup CEOs out there, your learning is never done. Your innovation is never over. Surround yourself with smart people who know a lot more than you do. Take off your historical blinders. And replace them with a perpetual thirst for new knowledge and fresh thinking about your business each and every year.
The key word here is thinking -- about what you don't know about your business that you should.