What We Don’t Know IS More Important Than What We Know
The other day, we hit a small bump in one of our projects. As one who is prideful and plans methodically (and always expects everything to go as planned), I had to pull myself together and step back a minute. When I did, I realized that we had not had the – “known-knowns,” “known-unknowns,” and “unknown-unknows” discussion in our team in a while. It was time to ask again “what don’t we know that we don’t even know we don’t know?”
For most, an “unknown-unknown” is something simply not known – it has either never happened to us or to our peers, therefore we do not know what we do not know. Sometimes, we may have thought it to ourselves, but for whatever reason, we chose not to ask the question or breech the topic (we could say this is a “known-unknown” but if no one on the team spoke up, then it is an “unknown-unknown” for the team). We also could be discontent, so we purposively hold back information. Whatever the reason or situation may be, “unknown-unknowns” are risks that are not addressed in planning; and therefore, can have a devastating impact to our team, our project, our client, and even our career. “Known-knowns” and “known-unknowns” are much more straightforward.
When we have a “known-known” or a “known-unknown” we can plan:
– Conduct peer reviews, risk assessments and analysis of processes.
– Build interdisciplinary teams, utilize coaches, and hire consultants.
– Apply monetary and schedule resources.
– Apply administrative controls.
However, when we have an “unknown-unknown,” we are not planning for potential impacts. Lack of a plan makes recovery more difficult. If we do not know about it, we do not think about it, then we do not plan for it. “Unknown-unknowns” leave us with a surmountable risk dangling over our team like 1-ton stone 50 feet up onside a cliff. Even a pebble at a high enough height can be catastrophic to our efforts if it falls. “Unknown-unknowns” overhang every project and every effort.
Seek out “unknown-unknowns:”
– Speak up – if it enters your mind, speak up; because someone else is likely thinking it too and either does not want to say it, or may not think it is important.
– Do not assume anything – do not assume someone is doing their work, do not assume someone already knows what you know.
– Carefully select your team members.
– Utilize all resources available.
– Be team minded – if your team fails, guess what – you fail; when your team succeeds, you succeed.
– Research, research, research – almost every effort has some type of research in books, on the Internet, in a retiree’s memory – do your homework.
– Listen – others may say things and their voice is dismissed, therefore turning a “known-known” or a “known-unknown” into an “unknown-unknown.”
We will always have the “unknown-unknown” overhanging our projects – as a leader, team member, co-worker, or consultant, it is our responsibility to seek out and address “unknown-unknowns” transitioning these to “known-unknowns” or “known-knowns;” thereby leading to reduced risk, improved ability to recover, and greater success.