Posted by: nedpelger | January 30, 2009

What You Know, What You Don’t Know, What You Think

I came across this article in which Warren Buffet was asked about the current fiscal stimulus being proposed, whether tax cuts would be better and all the uncertainty from economists. He responded by saying:

“The answer is nobody knows. The economists don’t know. All you know is you throw everything at it and whether it’s more effective if you’re fighting a fire to be concentrating the water flow on this part or that part. You’re going to use every weapon you have in fighting it. And people, they do not know exactly what the effects are. Economists like to talk about it, but in the end they’ve been very, very wrong and most of them in recent years on this. We don’t know the perfect answers on it. What we do know is to stand by and do nothing is a terrible mistake or to follow Hoover-like policies would be a mistake and we don’t know how effective in the short run we don’t know how effective this will be and how quickly things will right themselves. We do know over time the American machine works wonderfully and it will work wonderfully again.”

What’s instructive for Construction Supervisors is that Mr Buffet speaks mostly about what he doesn’t know. As we try to make good decisions on complex job site problems, we should consider the Colin Powell method. He asked subordinates three things:

  1. Tell me what you know.
  2. Tell me what you don’t know.
  3. Now…tell me what you think.

When problem solving, keep in mind that most of us do a poor job of keeping those three items clear in our head. They all swirl together and often lead us to make stupid decisions. Learn to break thoughts, advice and opinions into those three categories and you will see more truth. More truth improves every area of your life.



  1. I couldn’t agree more with those three things. I must admit however that I am not sure I ever put them in a list. Many times when confronted with issues I mentally will ask these questions as well as verbally when others may seek answers. New superintendents really benefit from this type of interaction. Most will see that this approach to problem solving is straight forward. When done correctly, it can be a great confidence builder and intoduce basic logical thinking.
    Great Post!

  2. Ned,

    As we struggle with our own rebuild, we are constantly reminded that “good decisions make for good foundations.”

    It’s hard enough building a home out of shipping containers and old aircraft hanger components, without having to make tough decisions every day, on the fly.

    Thanks for reminding me of “the rules” behind logical decision making. I’m gonna make a sign, and hang it up in the “build office.”

    I may have to quote you!

    “Ned says…”


  3. Hi Ned;

    Consider yourself immortalized on my blog. That, and twenty-five cents, will gain you a quarter! LOL!

    Thanks for keeping us straight!


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