Authentic Concern – Knowns & Unknowns


Authentic Concern – Knowns & Unknowns

Brian Wolff

It’s hard to know everything. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb to say it’s impossible to know everything. Especially about yourself. I tripped over that concept yet again last week when I discovered something about myself that I didn’t know. After five decades on this planet, I’m still learning things about myself, which makes me even more empathetic to young adults putting so much pressure on themselves to have it all figured out. It’s just not possible.

But learning new things about myself isn’t nearly as fascinating as the idea that people can know things about me that I don’t even know about myself. Colloquially, we call this our blind spot. We all have them, and some of us are better than others at navigating around them.

I was refamiliarized with a framework called the Johari Window a couple weeks ago as I prepared for a leadership team offsite. The Johari Window was developed by psychologists Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham in 1955 and provides a unique perspective on the interplay between our known and unknown aspects of self, shedding light on how we perceive ourselves and are perceived by others.

The model has four quadrants: 

1. Known / Known: I know things about myself and so do you.

2. Known / Unknown: I know things about myself, but you don’t know those things about me.

3. Unknown / Known: I don’t know things about myself, but you do – blind spot!

4. Unknown / Unknown: I don’t know and neither do you.

My take on the power of the model is it inspires me to remain humble by reminding me that there are many things, even about myself, that I still need to learn. It also helps me stay focused on sharing information. I tend to be a hoarder of information (something my colleagues know about me). It’s not that I don’t want to share, it’s just that I either forget and/or fail to see the significance of sharing until it’s too late. 

In short, the model reminded me about the importance of continuous improvement and the value of consistently being open to feedback to shrink the window that is unknown to me. The model also got me thinking about other ways it could be applied. The more I thought about it, the more I began to see the possibility of applying the Johari Window to business and parking.

I’m sure each of our operations has its own version of a blind spot. There are things that our customers know about our business that we don’t know. For example, do your customers know how to “cheat” the system to get out of the garage for free? I just learned about a scheme the other day that was pure genius. The way to become aware of these things in business is the same as it is for our personal blind spots. We need to be open to feedback, curious about things happening on the front line and be humble enough to know we don’t know.

The known/unknowns that I worry about most are the things that my teammates on the front line know about my business that our leaders don’t. In other words, is information about ways we could improve our company getting trapped? Or, are our leaders creating an environment that encourages open dialogue up and down the line and provides a safe space for teammates at all levels to share negative news, in the spirit of shrinking an organizational blind spot and making our business better? 

In 2011, Donald Rumsfeld wrote a book that was fascinating on so many levels. “Known and Unknown: A Memoir,” was a scintillating sneak peek behind the curtain, during a time when I remember the events playing out on the world stage very well. One of his main points centered on shining a light on how difficult it was to make big decisions with less than perfect information, and how easy it was to criticize those decisions when more complete information came to light after the fact. In the end, he and the administrations he served had to do their best to gather as much information as they could and make decisions, knowing incomplete information could lead them to a catastrophic outcome.

And that brings me all the way back to the beginning. Individuals, teams, companies and even governments, must be comfortable operating in a world where there are many unknowns. Regardless of the circumstance – personal, professional or political, our job as leaders is to create an environment where information flows freely. We must be humble enough to hear the information as objectively as possible and get comfortable taking decisive action without all the facts. That sounds just like a typical day in the life of a parking leader! 

Article contributed by:
Brian Wolff, Parker Technology
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