You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

February 24, 2020

The more specialized our work, the more we’re prone to blind spots. HR is highly specialized nowadays.

Contributed by Judy Dang
HR West 2020 Speaker

HR West 2020

The day before Valentine’s Day in 12th grade, I made chocolate chip cookies for the guy I had a crush on. It was my first attempt at cookies. “I made these last night. Would you like one, Christopher?”

He picked one out of the bag. Then he made a face. OMG, what is he doing? The next thing I know, he banged it against his blue metal locker. He took a bite.“These are hockey pucks!” he yelled.

I bit into one. I didn’t know what a hockey puck was supposed to taste like, but the way he said it did not sound like a compliment. I took another bite. Dense. Hard. I was afraid to break a tooth. Christopher walked away. I looked at my bag of pucks. What happened?! I didn’t understand why they were so tough.

I never made cookies again.

Fast forward to Thanksgiving that year. Mrs. Zlatnik, my high school advisor, invited me to her family’s home for dinner. She even picked me up early so I could learn how to make an apple pie. She laid out all the ingredients for pie dough on her kitchen table: flour, salt, butter, water.

When she pulled out a metal cup, I asked her why she used that instead of just a mug. “What?! You don’t just use any old mug! A cup is a specific measurement.” I told her my Valentine’s Day “hockey puck” nightmare. When the recipe called for two cups of flour, I had grabbed a random mug to scoop out the floor. No wonder the cookies came out tough as bricks. I used way too much flour, probably double what I should have. I had her in stitches. From that day on my baking life was forever changed.

The lesson here?

You don’t know what you don’t know. When I was unconsciously incompetent, I didn’t even know I had that blind spot.

The more specialized our work, the more we’re prone to blind spots. HR is highly specialized nowadays. I saw a job posting on HR.com recently for a truck driver recruiter, talent consultant for special populations and a lead deep learning scientist.

Such a narrow focus often results in tunnel vision.

So how do you address unconscious incompetence and “you don’t know what you don’t know?”

  1. Get a board of advisors. This is a group of peers, mentors, and trusted friends who tell it to you straight. Who won’t beat around the bushes. You want your board to expand your awareness and consciousness. They’re your eyes and ears for those UFOs outside your periphery vision.
  2. Ask them “What do you see about XYZ situation that I’m not seeing?” Or try “I’m having these thoughts about…Can you help me brainstorm what else is possible?”
  3. Prepare for some difficult answers. Your board’s job is not to stroke your ego. Consider their advice as updates to your mental software. Don’t take it personally.

Thanks to Mrs. Zlatnik’s steering me in the right direction, I’m now trying my hand at cinnamon rolls, even delicate puff pastry.

About the Author

The principal of Avid At Work, Judy Dang is a business productivity training and coach. With laser focused precision, she gets at the heart of what gets in your way and how to move past those hurdles so you achieve your goals faster. She coaches and speaks on not just getting things done, but also getting the RIGHT things done. Judy brings 18 years of project management, training, creativity, and problem-solving expertise across the university, nonprofit, architecture and design, professional service settings. Judy will co-lead a breakout session at HR West 2020 on Wednesday, March 11 “Leading From Within Clarity, Connection, Courage.”

Connect with Judy on LinkedIn. Read Judy’s previous articles.

Join Judy and Tracy Maher, Area Human Resources Leader, HDR, Inc. for their HR West 2020 session on Wednesday at 9:20 a.m.
Leading From Within: Clarity, Connection, Courage.

About HR West 2020

The HR West Conference shapes the future of HR together with the HR community. HR attendees and participants are thriving, in-the-know HR professionals and providers, always striving to stay ahead of what’s next and what’s to come in the HR profession.

The HR West Conference has convened annually for 36 years in the San Francisco Bay Area, attracting professionals from across the country, with a heavy presence from the Silicon Valley companies and their HR experts. These HR experts represent some of the most seasoned HR professionals who deliver on some of the biggest HR demands in the profession since they practice HR in California and around the world.


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