Posted by: LYF | February 20, 2009

How much do you know?

It’s really difficult to separate what “you know you don’t know” from “what you don’t know you don’t know.”  And it’s especially difficult if you weren’t aware of the distinction.  But it’s very important.  Identifying where your knowledge stops allows you to understand how much further you need to progress.  It’s a landmark that tells you how much more you need to learn.

I’ve read and seen first hand so many examples of this and how important it is to spot the difference.  If you can’t figure out what you need to know you’ll never get better.  You may get better by accident, but it will never be focused onto something specific, which will leave you with a lot of wasted time.  And why would you want to leave something like that up to chance?  Even worse, you’ll get blind sided by the stuff you never even considered or, the stuff “you didn’t know you didn’t know.”

A coworker told me a story of a new university coop who was taking signed bank confirmations from clients and just putting them into the file.  He never sent them to the bank!  He just thought, “oh ok, it’s signed my work here is done.”  He wasn’t stupid, he was just uninformed.  Unfortunately, that’s not an excuse that will hold when he’s trying to defend himself for being ignorant.

Bill Buford worked as an editor for the New Yorker but decided to try cooking – by apprenticing under Mario Batalli.  Here’s a good example of how much he didn’t know when he started, “And you do know about the oyster meat? The oyster? I asked, and my mind did a simple calculation. Duck, an animal with wings: fowl. Oyster, molecular thing without wings: mollusc. Ducks don’t have oysters; oysters don’t have ducks. The oyster I repeated?”  If someone told me that I would have probably had the same reaction.  About half way through the novel Bill laments, “I learned how much I needed to learn.”  He’s right.

So what do you do?  Make note of the stuff you don’t know and get access to as much information as possible.  The former will ensure you understand the things you currently don’t know and the latter will make you aware of what you’ve never considered.  Start learning the things you know you don’t understand.  Otherwise you’ll feel useless when someone asks you to cut the oyster out of a duck.

It is just as when I take a walk in the sunshine: even if I do so for another reason, it is only natural that I get tanned.”  That epitomizes what I’m talking about in terms of accessing as much information as possible.  As a consequence to researching – it doesn’t matter if you don’t understand how to use it now – you will be more aware.  Being more aware prevents you from explaining to your partner why you’ve been putting blank bank confirmations in audit files.

I’m only saying this because I’ve learned these things the hard way.

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Responses

  1. Yikes I think/hope that co-op horror story is like an urban audit legend.

  2. I hope so. That’s a huge screw up.

  3. Yeah, good way to describe an absolute failure of understanding of the audit confirmation process (and the teaching of said process!).

    Since you obviously know how to do things right – the secret is to know how to ‘teach them right’ – by first asking “have you ever done this before”, and then making sure they know the right way to do things. 🙂

  4. Confirms are something I’m still confused by, but I know by now I SHOULD know it, because it’s typical intern/first-year responsibility. I have been fortunate enough to get to do a wide variety of tasks in my internship, but I still get confused on the confirms. But as you say, I *know* it’s something I need to pay attention to and learn more about.

    Also, I was a little confused about the story about the oyster and the duck and all. Maybe I’m just tired, or maybe some more punctuation would help? I’m a bit slow sometimes, haha.

  5. Confirms = independent verification that the balances the client claims to have are in fact real. Is there a specific angle you’re puzzled about?

  6. Think about it this way. Account balances = completeness, existence, accuracy and valuation. Those are the primary assertions you are testing.

    Bank confirmations test for the existence of the bank account, which will tell you how much cash they have – it’s mostly an existence, accuracy thing.


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