The importance of knowing yourself

In business everyone has an opinion

I spent ten years starting software companies. It was such a different time that it barely holds any resemblance to today's environment of startups. But the one thing that hasn't changed, over the last 22 years, is that there's never a lack of opinions. Everyone has one.

If we were sitting down talking, I'd tell you the main reasons you never want to take investments from others. That would be an opinion. But if you asked me about my experience raising venture capital, I could tell you ways to make it work for you. That would almost sound like the exact opposite opinion.

One person. Multiple opinions. Imagine talking to multiple people. Guess how many opinions you'll get?

Your own opinion is important

But you've likely heard that you need to be true to yourself. Or you've been told that you need to trust your gut. (Note: When I started this blog 6 years ago instead of calling it by my name, I was going to call it Untrained Gut.) 

Your gut is worth listening to if you have the appropriate experience. But if you don't, all you have is an untrained gut, and that's no more trustworthy than the opinion your neighbor has about your business.

All that said, your own opinion is important. Critically important. And since you're the one making decisions, you need to be able to rely on your own opinion of what's the next best move.

But sometimes you're not helping yourself

When I was in college I was introduced to a concept that both impressed and destroyed me. It was the notion of “blind spots.”

When you drive a car and look at the road using sideview mirrors, there are spots where other cars can linger. That's why you have to do that extra look-over-the-shoulder move. Because if not, you'd be making a decision to change lanes without realizing that there was something there that you didn't realize.

In people, the idea of a blind spot works similarly. It makes you cautious. And that can help (until you get so insecure that it hurts you.)

The benefit of this concept is that you can quickly realize that you're not helping yourself when you make decisions from just your gut. Because your gut is biased to how you think about (and see) things.

  • What if you're contrarian?
  • What if you are overly pessimistic?
  • What if you regularly share too much?
  • What if you make decisions too quickly?

Any of these dynamics isn't fatal if you're aware of it and put process (or people) in place to help you navigate the dynamic. But if you ignore things and just run straight ahead, you might end up making an obvious mistake that was completely avoidable.

Most of the problems I deal with are of my own making

At one point in life I made two lists of people. One list was the people I had led, trained, coached, managed and inspired to do great work. They appreciated me and thanked me. It was a nice list to see how I had impacted the world for good. The other list, equally as long, was the people who I had led, trained, or managed who would never work for me again and hated me. Not a great list to review.

A funny thing happened when I reviewed that second list. Just about every one of the folks on that list (with a few exceptions) was mad, frustrated or felt let down by me because of something I had total control over. In other words, what they had in common wasn't that they were bad people. Or impatient. Or some other character flaw. It was me. And not me, from a character perspective. From a poor decision making perspective.

A simple way to say this is that most of the problems I had (and likely still have) with people are of my own making.

And that's completely avoidable if I slow down, pay attention, find and work on my blind spots, and make decisions a bit more carefully.

The importance of knowing yourself

Now, to be clear, I'm not saying that my goal in life is only to have one list of people who are happy with me. I don't live for the approval of others and sometimes I have to make hard decisions that others won't like. I get that.

What I'm talking about is that sometimes it's the other stuff—my fast decision making, my sense of my own ability to deal with complexity, my skills with strategy—that creates natural blind spots. And those can have painful consequences for me and others if I don't pay attention to my defaults.

Here's a simple way to think about it. If you know you're good dribbling the basketball with your right hand, you learn to dribble with the left, or you start running up and down only one side of the court, or you pass the ball quickly – you create ways to mitigate the challenges of your defaults.

That's the importance of knowing yourself. It's the ability to know what you're strong at. But also places where you need to bolster up other skills or dynamics with the people around you.

I have a friend who is super contrarian. She will go left simply because I might mention she should go right. And when she's running her company, it can cause her to do things that have downstream consequences. We've talked about it and she knows. What she's done is realize that dynamic and create her own support at work to double-check her big decisions to make sure it's not just reactionary.

How can you help yourself get a handle on your defaults?

Me? I take tests all the time. I want every diagnostic tool ever. Mostly because I want some visibility on those blind spots.

Here are a few that you might like or that might help you:

What I've learned about myself is that the way I make decisions isn't like everyone else (that's true for you too). The consequence of that is that I may weigh some factors more than I should, and others less than I should. And the more I know about myself, the more I can decide if the decision I'm about to make requires more than just my gut (regardless of whether it's trained or not).

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Chris Lema
Chris Lema has been working with WordPress since 2005. Over the years he's been a blogger, a speaker at WordCamps, a coach for WordPress product companies, and the founder of the conference for WordPress business owners, called CaboPress. Today he's the VP of Products at Liquid Web, where he manages the world's first managed platform for WooCommerce stores.

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