You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

One of the things that I loved about being a program manager at Microsoft, AskMe and IMSafer was that I had the opportunity to design products that other people would use.  As part of the design process, you plan, mapping out what needs to be done, and setting a schedule.  The big challenge with any schedule is that you don’t know what you don’t know.

In and of itself, this is something of a tautology, and pretty much non-actionable.  In the instances, however, where you hit upon one of those things that you don’t know, well chaos can sometimes ensue.  The best you can hope for during one of these escapades is to contain the challenge and minimize the impact on the overall product and schedule.

These things that you don’t know can take many forms, but the ones that are the worst are the ones you don’t know how to solve, could not have prepared for, and basically throw up your hands and think bad thoughts.  I hit upon one of these challenges just a few weeks ago with IMSafer.

In dealing with people, especially close colleagues, you never know how they are going to react to adverse conditions.  There was a section from the Alex Garland book “The Beach” that applies here.  It’s called the “oh shit” moment.  You know that moment when you are playing a competitive video game…the one where you are about to die and there is nothing you can do about it?  How do you handle that moment?  Do you throw the controller?  Do you swear?  Do you get angry?  This somewhat simple, yet very primal, response tells a lot about a person.  The same holds true with venture investments.  How do people react when things start to go bad?  You don’t know what you don’t know, and this can really hurt you when you are dealing with delicate issues. 

Venture investments can be really stressful, and if you are going to get into bed with people, remember that you will see some pretty wild swings in your fortunes, so it’s best to really know how your partners are going to handle those “oh shit” moments.  We kept and XBox 360 in the office for just this reason.