Rule #1: We Don’t Know What We Don’t Know

Fans of the popular CBS television series NCIS know that the main character, Leroy Jethro Gibbs (played by Mark Harmon) has an extensive series of ‘rules’ that he has developed through his experience.  He lives by these rules and teaches them to the people he works closely with.

I have to come to realize that I also have a series of ‘rules’ that I have learned from client situations throughout my career.  I will be sharing these rules with you over the next few months.

Rule #1: We Don’t Know What We Don’t Know

“Owners’ success, and the success of their companies, becomes limited by what they don’t know.”


Business owners are typically smart, entrepreneurial people.  They have led their companies to a certain level of success, often by hard work and ‘gut feel’.  They have hired great people who are very loyal to them and their company.  They have personal relationships with their important customers and vendors.  They have cash in the bank.

But then something happens to them or their company that they, and members of their team, haven’t experienced before.  Their growing company hits a wall and plateaus, or jumps out of control.  Increased competition or economic conditions reduce profit margins.  Team members are no longer effective at their jobs because their jobs have changed, requiring different skill sets.  A disgruntled employee takes action against the company.  Decisions become too risky to make by ‘gut feel’ alone.

These owners and their team members didn’t know the need for documented processes and procedures.  They didn’t know the need for strategic and business plans, and for annual budgets.  They didn’t know the need for new and/or different information that would help them make decisions for the company to be more profitable.  They didn’t know that available technology could help them attract customers, automate a manufacturing process or streamline their accounting function.

These owners’ success, and the success of their companies, becomes limited by what they don’t know.

How do we expand what we know?  Owners can build an inner circle of trusted advisors, including a B2B CFO® partner, that they can directly involve in their business as needed.  They can take advantage of every hiring opportunity to build the skill set, experience and expertise of their teams (another of my rules).

Most importantly, we must constantly be aware that “we don’t know what we don’t know” and be open to new ideas, different perspectives and opportunities for improvement.

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