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Les McKeown's Predictable Success Blog

  • September 23, 2013
  • minute read

A Powerful New Way to Think About Your Company's Growth 

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A version of this article first appeared in Inc.com

Listen to Les McKeown read this blog post:

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Take a look the diagram below. 

It’s a version of something called Johari’s Window (a concept inadvertently popularized by Donald Rumsfeld in one of his off-the-cuff remarks at a press conference and obliquely referred to in the title of his autobiography).

It’s also one of the most powerful tools in any organization growth leader’s toolkit – if you know how to use it.


Johari's Window

If the circle represents everything you need to know to successfully grow your organization, then the trick lies in knowing the importance and relevance of each of the three segments: 

1. KK: What You Know You Know

Most of the time we live and work in KK – what we know we know.

If you’re a founder or CEO, the organization is almost certainly predicated on your KK (yo-yo manufacturing, car detailing, whatever).

If you’re a team lead or department head, your area of mastery (sales, accounting, inventory control – whatever your core skill is) is almost certainly your KK.

Working primarily in an area that isn’t KK leads pretty quickly to tension and frustration, for everyone involved.

But for most of us, for most of the time, KK is like water to a fish. It’s what we spend most of our time in, and there are very few surprises while we’re there.

2. KDK: What You Know You Don’t Know 

As a leader you’re pretty much constantly battling KDK, the things you don’t know, but which you know you don’t know (stick with me here).

As a sales person, for example, you might be aware that you don’t know enough about accounting; a VP of R&D may find themselves wishing they understood more about sales; the leader of an organization may spend a lot of time wondering if the competition will cut prices or if their commodity raw materials cost will rise dramatically in the next year – all examples of things we know we don’t know.

With KDK, we don’t know the answers (yet), but we can frame the questions.

What we “know we don’t know” loom ahead as obvious pitfalls on the road to achieving our strategic growth goals – and more fool us if we don’t at least try to anticipate and overcome those pitfalls.

There are no brownie points for overcoming KDK. As a leader, that’s what you’re there to do.

3. DKDK: What You Don’t Know You Don’t Know

DKDK is where the dragons lie.

Unlike KDK, by definition, in DKDK we can’t know anything about those things we don’t know we don’t know.

Consequently, this is where the surprises emerge, sudden disruption – the stuff that blindsides us, the stuff that leaves us saying “Where did that come from“?

New business models that we never could have imagined. Major competitors suddenly devouring each other. Red-hot technology, rendered useless overnight by a new, white-hot competing technology.

Rarely do organizations perish because of something in KDK.

It’s from here, the uncharted territory of DKDK, that the 800lb gorillas emerge that threaten your success.

It’s here, in DKDK, that existential threats lurk.

The question, therefore, is how do you minimize DKDK – or at least shrink it to manageable proportions?

The answer, of course, is that you can’t eradicate it entirely (by definition), but observing two important principles will get you much of the way there:

Eradicate as much of your KDK as you can.

When you turn some portion of KDK into a KK (a sales manager learning the principles of accounting for example, or a research scientist gaining an understanding of marketing) something interesting always happens: a portion of DKDK solidifies into KDK (the sales person gains a whole new perspective on margin control; the research scientist understands the importance of predictable product cycles).

The more you master your KDK, the smaller the area of your DKDK becomes.

Play well with others.

My blind spots are not yours. Much of what’s in my DKDK is almost certainly in your KDK, if not your KK.

Surround yourself with a strong cadre of differently-thinking individuals (yes-men or women don’t help), talk often, muse a lot, speculate and ponder.

You’ll find that your group DKDK is much smaller than any one individual’s.

What About You? What powerful tools Do you have in your growth leader’s toolkit?

Let Me Know In The Comments Below!


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