The saying, “you don’t know what you don’t know” is a powerful insight that applies day-to-day in our aviation world and one that should be contemplated and added to one’s “wisdom bag”. From our first day in aviation, we learn to know our limits and how to abide by them, but we are not trained to proactively consider what we don’t know, which is a significant element in our ability to respond. It is responsible behavior, knowing our limits and the limits of our team.
Discovering what you don’t know on an ongoing basis, like observing our limits, can produce significant and positive benefits for your operation and it does not require lots of resources to achieve – just an open mind and a few minutes everyday asking the question, “What am I missing here?”; “What is important but not obvious at this time?” – just like good situational awareness and CRM. Being aware of what you don’t know is important as an aviator and doubly so for aviation managers. Being realistic about the situation supports the ability to respond – the essence of responsibility.
We serve smart and effective people in this industry and have opportunities to observe them in action. A common tool of smart and effective people is that they ask questions. They are looking for reasonable, specific answers that help them frame their understanding about a situation – they seek to know what they don’t know. Their skills, honed by years of making decisions, quickly determine the questions to ask. Observing this exercise is an interesting experience, until you are the person being asked the question and are unable to respond. It is even more difficult because the question is simple, basic and was obvious to you in an instant.
The answers are all around us – it is up to us to ask the questions. It is up to us to listen. When you ask the question, you set the timing and the agenda, staying ahead of the curve, thus making it easier to ask more questions. Asking questions inside your circle can produce predictable answers; the system you are managing produced the answer. Therefore, to expand your answer “pool”ask questions outside of your circle.
Invite a third party to the party and get some real insight that may enhance your ability to ask the right question before the boss asks you. Consultants and advisors as “outsiders” see your operation from a fresh perspective, possibly similar to how the boss sees the operation. It would not take a significant amount of time to go beyond the audits of the SMS to get some insights on what you don’t know. Don’t wait to engage, have the ability to respond. You don’t know what you don’t know – until you do.