What You Don’t Know Can Kill You
Last Monday, my best friend’s 15-yearold daughter, Amanda, died from strep throat.
Impossible? No. Heart wrenching? You’d better believe it.
In finding out what happened to her, I discovered something that I hadn’t known — and my friend hadn’t known either. We didn’t even know enough to ask. Francis Bacon — take a bow; “Knowledge is power.” Not knowing something basic killed Amanda.
In addition to not knowing that you can die from strep throat (you can look up how that works), I also didn’t know how the testing procedure works. A standard part of a test for strep throat is a confirming culture that develops a few days after the initial is test performed in the doctor’s office. In Amanda’s case, the doctor’s office test results came back negative; the culture came back positive. Miscommunication between the lab, the doctor’s office, and my friend ultimately killed his daughter.
No one in his family, my family, or anyone else I’ve talked to unrelated to the medical profession, knew that there was a second, confirming test. More important, they also didn’t know that they should be looking for results from the culture. Now you know, too.
How do you know what you don’t know?
The simple answer is that there is no way to know. Experience, critical thinking, and advice from knowledgeable people may be the only weapons in the battle against ignorance.
Our professional lives are filled with situations that we know we don’t completely understand. For me, 3-phase, 440 power tops the list. I don’t understand it and I know if I work with it incorrectly, I will get killed. The solution is easy — I stay away from it and leave it to knowledgeable professionals.
Accounting is much more like the strep throat culture for me. I know my construction business inside and out, and can usually answer all the questions my accountant’s staff can compile. That’s where my understanding of accounting stops. It’s like a wall. I can’t see beyond it. I’m looking directly at my ignorance, and it’s a very big wall. I don’t even know enough to ask my accountant an intelligent question. Good thing he’s in my corner and we talk frequently. I rely on him to know me well enough to say, “Hey, have you ever thought of this?” Guarantee you I haven’t.
Is ‘limited warranty’ an oxymoron?
As I sat down to write this, I thought of a few construction situations I wished I had known more about. Not knowing and not knowing what to ask, combined with a little miscommunication or sloppy workmanship, could have had some really dire consequences. These didn’t kill me, but they certainly could have.
There was a time when many of my projects called for the installation of wood windows and doors. My guys have installed them from a variety of manufacturers and detail the installation according to my specifications. Almost all the window and door manufacturers provide lifetime limited warranty on their product. Recently, I purchased and installed $55,000 worth of doors from Company A. They leaked like a sieve.
Of course, the leak was my installation, not their factory built product. Turned out, it was 100% their factory built product. My installation was 100% watertight. “Great” the owner says, “Company A will pay to repair the wood floors, re-stucco the openings, remove, replace, reinstall, and repaint the new doors and trim, etc.” Right? Not a chance.
Just like the 35-mm film you put in your camera, the manufacturer’s warranty stops at their product. They’ll give you a new roll of film, but they are not paying to send you back to Australia to reshoot that roll of film.
I didn’t know that the door company’s warranty stops at their product. That didn’t seem right. I had never considered it. I would have bought the doors from another manufacturer. Unfortunately, they all state their warranties largely the same way. We could have gone to court and probably won, but that just makes the lawyers richer. It never occurred to me to even check into the warranty or consider what might be “limited.”
Guess what? The insurance that I have to carry to operate my construction business in the state of Florida doesn’t cover the collateral damage caused by the doors, either. It doesn’t cover anything “under my direct control,” including employees, subcontractors, or Chinese drywall.
Had the door installation leaked, even one little bit, and the responsibility for the leak been found to lay with me, it would have financially killed me. I’m a little less ignorant now. I also now know what the word “limited” means. And now, we install wood windows and doors only under very substantial overhangs or porches. Now, I know — experience.
At work, these situations crop up every day. What have you discovered that you didn’t know or didn’t know to ask? Checking for asbestos prior to commencing with selective demolition? Knowing the actual legal status of your employees or subcontractors?
I know a maintenance contractor who thought he was hiring legitimate employees. He was paying taxes, Social Security, etc., on them, all through his employee leasing service. He found out that the Social Security cards, driver’s licenses, and green cards that he had collected from the employees were all forged. They had passed the scrutiny of the employee leasing company. He thought everything was just peachy. He was wrong. Really wrong. Like, the-federal-government-doesn’t-like-this-at-all, really wrong. It almost killed him.
What have you found out that you didn’t know or didn’t know to ask? We probably don’t know it, either. What technique, business practice, operation, mandatory guideline, or other construction situation nearly killed you? Tell us. We all want to know. And I especially want to know what I don’t know to ask.