You have probably heard the phrase (or been told) “You don’t know what you don’t know.” This is one part of 4 basic stages of competence according to something called the Competence Hierarchy. Simply put, we either not know what we don’t know; Are aware of what we do not know or realize there are gaps in our knowledge in that area; Know and are confident that we know something; or are so confident and competent in an area that we don’t even think about it or realize that we have mastered it.
I love this quote because to me, it means we start learning as soon as we realize we don’t understand something. If I attend a non-EHS conference and a word or concept totally foreign to me is discussed with ease by those around me, this is truly the first step in learning because knowing I do not understand something is the first step for me to learn something new. Even if it starts with a simple Google of the term, that is the first step in making sense of new information.
In the world of safety and health, some people are experts in construction and others are experts in hospital safety regulations while others could talk for hours about behavioral safety or risk management. Safety professionals are not expected to know everything but it’s key to realize when we don’t know what we don’t know and take steps to at least move to the second stage described above – becoming aware of what we don’t know.
In the Safety Trainer’s Badge Book I created a few years ago, I listed 50 different safety training skills. (This is a free download on the SafetyFUNdamentals website). If you glance at the badges, try to think if you know the basics about that badge topic. Next, read through the “badge requirements” and see if there is anything you don’t know. Now you “know what you don’t know” and can begin to work towards knowledge in that area. As Safety Professionals, especially those trying to maintain certifications, it can be difficult to know where to focus our continuing education efforts and the first step is realizing what we don’t know.