Is there anything more frustrating when doing business with someone and finding out that the relationship will be unsuccessful because you didn’t ask all the right questions before starting your project?
And even more so that you didn’t know the right questions to ask?
How do you know what you don’t know?
Some people will tell you that it’s important that you do sufficient research to learn everything you need to know before you hire someone or enter into business with them. But how do you know what sufficient research is? And how do you know if you are even researching the right things? And finally, when it’s a new project how do you know what you don’t know about someone or something?
Others will expect that whomever they are working with will simply tell them everything they should know. While that would certainly be wonderful, it rarely happens. Either it is assumed that you know what you need to know or, more rarely, information is sometimes concealed.
Some years ago I needed to work with a business associate to investigate alleged unethical practices in an organization. During the investigation I asked my associate why he had not given me financial reports that he knew would have helped my investigation, but would have cast him in an unfavorable light. He told me he did not give them to me because I did not ask for them. When I responded I that I did not ask because I did not know they existed and that I needed to ask for them, he told me that was just too bad for me. As you might imagine, it didn’t end well for him.
The incident has stuck with me for many years and it is what started me thinking about how often we simply don’t know what it is we don’t know. I always thought it would make a good blog post, but it got set aside in favor of more pressing projects.
And then a couple of months ago, my middle daughter was scheduled for Advanced Placement exams. The school decided to hold the exams offsite all the way across town from both home and school. The instructions told students to report at 7 a.m. and her teacher repeatedly told her to plan on a 3-hour exam. Because they were instructed not to bring cell phones and payphones are now virtually nonexistent (and she is a rule follower), we made arrangements for me to pick her up about 10:30 a.m.
After a frustrating 90 minutes of waiting, I discovered the scheduled dismissal time was noon. In a conversation after the fact with the AP coordinator, I was told a number of times that we should have known the given information was wrong and should have known I needed to ask more questions. Aaarrrgghh.
Once again, the fact that I didn’t know what I didn’t know torpedoed my day.
My Frustration Inspired Me to Develop a Solution–At Least for My Business
I began analyzing jobs and partnerships to see what worked and what didn’t and the reasons why they did or didn’t work. I began really pondering on the things I wish potential clients knew about doing business with me (or anyone else) and what I wished they would ask me about before we began working together.
From that, I began putting together a list of questions that I would start asking my future clients–and a list of questions I wanted them to ask me–or anyone else they were considering hiring.
Some of the questions, I am sure, seem fairly obvious—but others are not so much. I am an advocate for education in the business world. Whether or not a potential client chooses to do business with me, I always hope that I have left them better equipped for success than when we first met.
So, how do you solve the problem of not knowing what you don’t know?