The more you don’t know, the more you think you know

rep2I recently had the pleasure of hosting a Manhattan-based fundraising dinner on behalf of my Boston-based alma mater, Northeastern University.

Attendees include Dean Xavier Costa and Dr. Susan Ambrose, senior vice provost of the school along with fellow alumni and parents of current students.

At one point, a parent was bemoaning the oft-discussed sense of entitlement that seems to be permanently attached to Millennials and the fast-rising Gen Z’ers who are following them.

Dr. Ambrose, who joined NU from Carnegie-Mellon, said the perceived sense of entitlement of the young is a common complaint among parents and, when it occurs in the classroom, is called, ‘the expert blind spot.’  Ambrose describes this as “the state when instructors are blind to the learning needs of novice students.  This happens because the experts are at a state of unconscious competence, while novices are often at a state of unconscious incompetence…”
Thus, they miss an opportunity to connect, and learn.

Translating that academic-speak to the real-world, Dr. Ambrose suggested we Gen Xers and Boomers may be blind to Millennials’ needs because we already know so much about life. Conversely, she says of Millennials, “The more you don’t know, the more you think you know.”

That’s spot on, and leads me to a recent social media incident involving former employees.

In our nearly two decades of existence, we’ve routinely posted significantly lower turnover rates than our competitors. The 2012-13 time-frame, however, was an anomaly because our largest client at the time decided that, after seven years of award-winning work on our part, they needed a global agency. C’est le guerre.

That decision, though, forced us to cut costs and, unfortunately, lay-off a few employees (something we hadn’t done since the dotcom bubble burst). We did our best to treat the departing employees with dignity (and dough). Some beat us to the punch, and jumped ship before we asked them to leave.

Regardless of whether they left, or were asked to leave, a small group begun posting negative and nasty comments about Peppercomm as well as photographs of themselves celebrating “their escape from Peppercomm.” That’s fine (and certainly understandable in the immediate aftermath of such an incident).

Now, though, a few people who have left Peppercomm under completely different circumstances (and were told the door was always open if they’d like return) began popping up in similar Instagram or Facebook photographs with their predecessors.

That photograph in, and of, itself is harmless. But, when one links it to some of the previous ones, creates a certain distaste of the entire group.

Make no mistake that some of these alumni are doing very well. Others are well-heeled and may never have to work another day. But, according to the grapevine, a few are struggling and will be looking for new jobs shortly.

And therein lies the danger of unconscious incompetence. For reasons known best to them, this group assumed their visual and written post-Peppercomm social media outings would somehow escape our attention. They didn’t.

So, when a future employer calls a member of our management team asking for a reference on one of these individuals, we will confirm his employment, but that’s all. And that, in turn, will signal the future employer to steer clear.

I’m writing this blog not to ‘out’ the offending alumni but, rather, to alert other junior executives as well as every college and university students to avoid unconscious incompetence.

I know the more I learn the less I know.

Millennials need to understand, if not embrace, Dr. Ambrose’s words of wisdom: “The more you don’t know, the more you think you know.” To which I’d add, think before hitting the send button capturing any after-work libation.

3 thoughts on “The more you don’t know, the more you think you know

  1. This subject matter is a can of worms that I hope is opened by many – given the ramifications of social media spreadability (apologies to Mr. Sam Ford) and how detrimental it can be to one’s reputation when misused. Two years ago I was tagged, unknowingly, in a photograph that was distasteful and taken wildly out of context – and to make things worse the photo and tag were the result of not a former but a current colleague. I don’t believe it was an action of malice – just one that was thoughtless. Social media is a wonderful tool, and at the same time, a catalyst for privacy breaches, poor decision making and indiscretion. That’s a lesson not for Millenials but anyone who uses social media – and, it should make one think twice about what they tag, and what they allow from a privacy standpoint on their Facebook, Google + and LinkedIn profiles.

  2. My foundational philosophy for life and business is: “You can’t build your reputation on what you’re going to do.” We all are the product of our past achievements…and relationships. Never burn a bridge, unless you’re on the other side, and never need to come back. Or ask for a reference. Spot-on, Steve. Once again.