Let’s start with a small poem to give you sense.

One who knows and knows that he knows… his horse of wisdom will reach the skies.

One who knows, but doesn’t know that he knows… he is fast asleep, so you should wake him up!

One who doesn’t know, but knows that he doesn’t know… his limping mule will eventually get him home.

One who doesn’t know and doesn’t know that he doesn’t know… he will be eternally lost in his hopeless oblivion!

Why the fuss,

Well, it’s the simplicity of the framework that makes it so powerful to help understand existing knowledge and gaps in knowledge.

So before making any strategic decision, ask yourself these four questions.

1. What we know already (known knowns) 

– This is where we work with facts, analytical data, analogies and lateral thinking to explore different ways of looking at the data and find new meanings.

2. Are we aware of our assumptions (known unknowns)? 

– Best addressed by crafting hypotheses and then finding ways to measure, accept or reject them.

3. What about biases and unconscious decisions (unknown knowns)? 

– This is where we need to actively fight our prejudices.

– And use group thinking and brainstorming to drive decision making and challenge our understanding of reality.

4. Are we conscious of what we are not exploring (unknown unknowns)? 

– Where the most powerful opportunities are hidden. 

– The only way to win here is by an exploratory approach.

– Look at the world with an open-mind and recognise patterns and hidden behaviours.

So, if we were working in the realm of Knowns (the Known Knowns or the Known Unknowns)

– The best approach would be to think in an inductive way

– How might we use those facts to learn new things? 

– How might we test our hypotheses? 

Whereas, if instead we were exploring the realm of Unknowns. 

– The idea would be to explore and find ways to surface some of those unknowns? 

– How might we prepare for the surprises ahead?

One simple way for each of us to use this is to approach our business or category from this perspective as well.

What are the known knowns of our category and consumer

– What are the Unknown Knowns that we need to find out

– What are the known Unknowns that we may be overlooking or assuming to be true

– What are the unknown unknowns that we could explore further to drive growth

P.S – This tool has been specially instrumental in war strategies to mitigate risk as well as enhance defence systems

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