Last week I was working with some people on a plan to get a whole team on board with a few changes that this company was putting into place. We wanted everyone involved so that it would be “their” project too, and I was facilitating the break-out sessions to make this all happen.

You might have thought we were planning combined military invasion of another planet with all the planning and organizing we were doing. We had everything but scale models worked up!  We all had our heads down and were doing the things we had always done. We did this because we were working from the same place we had already been, and we approached it with the same information that we had been collecting.

“STOP!” I said somewhere after about 2 hours planning and prep work. I looked around the room and said “first off, we don’t know what we don’t know…. What is it that we need to KNOW?”  I swear there was a clarity that settled on the room in the silence that followed. I guess because I asked the question everyone was looking at me, but I just stared back, letting the silence build. Awkwardly we had two of the group start to kick up some ideas, but we realized that we were trying to answer questions we already knew the answers to, and also trying to plan this big roll out to manipulate a workforce in a way that we had mapped out for everyone. That wasn’t going to cut it.

Again the room was quiet, I knew this quiet, this was the quiet of a room full of people that no one wants to be wrong or judged by others, so nothing is said. So I asked this group of planners and thinkers “We don’t know what we need to know, isn’t that right?” Sheepishly they all nodded, but I wasn’t ready to start leading yet, I wanted to know one more thing first. “How does that feel?”

OHHHHHHHHHHH wow, that was not something anyone was expecting, (or at least that is what I read on the faces as, after a moment of surprise, they started all to look inwardly).  “How does it feel not to know what we need to know?” I asked again, and the reply came back softly “scary.”

Yep, it is scary not to know what you need to know, but we go right on out there and great the world every day, not knowing exactly what will be there along the way. And it was good to be scared I said. Scared sometimes makes us work harder, but it also makes us more aware. We had all been working hard for the previous two hours, but we were sure of ourselves and feeling confident. Being a little unsure allowed us to look deeper, to peek behind the closed doors to see what was hidden there.

See what I did was add a level of humility into the room, and when we plan, that can be the thing that scares us to death. Confidence is king, “confidence is the best defense”, confidence is 90% of the battle, are all things we have been taught and which have merit and virtue in and of themselves as statements. But a little humility goes a LONG way. It’s like adding a pinch of salt into the stew, all of a sudden the taste is brighter and clearer. Humility focuses us and maybe scares us to be more aware of what we don’t know instead of relying on what we DO know.

None of us get better by pushing ourselves to levels we know we can do.  That is called refinement, and though that has its place, it is not true growth. Growth is by doing what we don’t know we can do! It’s about going beyond the limits, in many cases it about going into “Scary territory”.

The roll out is going well and our meeting went alot smoother after that moment of clarity. We decided the frank, open discussion that we were not sure of where it was going to go was really what we needed. Having an end in mind might be well and good, but then that would of been refinement on an idea. We wanted growth, and that meant we needed to lead people, the company, into places we had never been and we were unsure of the outcomes. You can have trust in the numbers or you can have faith in your people. And I think that the numbers always come in line when you have faith in your people. But it can be scary.


John “Z” Zeydel

PUSH Coach – working with Louisville’s business leaders to PUSH to the scary places where true success happens.


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