What you think vs What you know

When I went to work with a bunch of engineers at a local university, I figured
that I would be okay because my dad is an engineer and nothing can quite prepare you for working with an engineer like living with an engineer...

I grew up with a very analytical father (an engineer), I too am quite analytical but I lack the scientific brain to back it up so most of the minutia that I word vomit tends to be more subjective and creative. This is where I got into trouble. Fast forward to the university job.

I worked for one of the (seemingly) most intimidating men ever put on the face of the earth. Picture a 70-something Westpoint grad / former military interrogator / all-around bad ass that knows everyone in the defense contracting world and is very politically connected. We shall call him "Mr. Westpoint". 

I'm in a meeting with lots of executives and very important partners / stakeholders and Mr. Westpoint asks me a question about the capacity of a room for an event I'm planning. 

"I think it holds a maximum of 750 people for the set up we've been discussing." I reply in an innocent 27 year old wet-behind-the-ears fashion (because, ya know... I am).
Mr. Wespoint leans in and says really quietly, sternly and for the sole effect (I believe) of making my blood run stone cold "You think or you know."
This is one of those situations that makes or breaks a person; I can feel it. I calmly look down and flip through my notes where I see, that YES - the room will hold 750 people in a classroom style setting. 
"I know it will hold 750 people in a classroom-style setting, Mr. Westpoint." I feel my face turning the color of a ripe strawberry, but I hold his gaze and speak with as much confidence as I can muster.
"Thank you." Mr. W replies and we move on.

Professionally speaking - that was the last time I started a sentence with "I think...". I realized that when you are looked to as a subject matter expert you can't afford to think you have to know. You're hired for a job because you have the expertise in that arena, repeatedly responding with your opinion or like you're guessing systematically chips away at your expertise. 

I don't want someone who thinks they know how to disarm a bomb - I want a freaking bomb disarming EXPERT! 

Do you agree? Do you have any similar stories? Did I leave anything out?

Post a Comment