18 Service Pillars: Know When You are in Over Your Head

September 24, 2018

T.S. Eliot once asked the question, “If you aren’t in over your head, how do you know how tall you are?”  This is a solid challenge to embrace. It forces us to stretch and grow.  However, it can’t be used as an excuse for transparency.


I believe the root cause of guessing is a fear of looking ignorant.  However, ignorance is nothing more than a lack of knowledge and no one person can know everything.  One of my favorite quotes goes something like this:

Ignorance can be educated.

Crazy can be medicated.

but there is no cure for stupid.

Getting back to the point, please understand that while guessing is bad, assumptions or predictions are very often appropriate.  These are crucial weapons in any consultant’s arsenal.  However, when used properly, assumptions and predictions are always identified when made. This way, they can be verified or validated as soon as possible.

All this means we must be willing to admit when we are in over our heads. It is an important skill to master in life as well as consulting.  It requires us to be authentic; to be true to ourselves and true to others. If you don’t know something, take a step back, do some research, or take a page from “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” and “Use a lifeline”. Unlike in that game, lifelines multiply in life and grow knowledge when used properly.

Never stop growing and don’t be afraid to live at risk.  As Ray Bradbury said, “Living at risk is jumping off the cliff and building your wings on the way down.” Now that’s a pretty exciting way to live life!

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