June 2020 – Andrew Bird
The now somewhat infamous words of a former politician…..
“There are known knowns; there are things we know we know.”
“There are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know.”
“But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know.
There’s actually one more he didn’t mention, perhaps for good reason. The ‘unknown knowns’. But that’s a whole nother story.
This way of perceiving the world was articulated in 1955 by Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham. They arrived at this work as psychologists and it became more widely known as the Johari Window.
It’s been said that this whole concept can be a bit “wacky” and confusing. I’ve thought so myself.
But it somehow seems to sum up many situations that we see around business strategy.
In more human terms
Mark Twain “it ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble, its what you know for sure that just ain’t so”.
Known knowns are the things we are conscious about, that we understand.
Known unknowns are when we are aware that there are certain problems that we don’t yet understand.
Unknown unknowns are when we don’t yet realise that there is even a problem or where it may lie.
Most conventional strategy starts with a focus on ‘known unknowns’. The areas where we are conscious that a problem or opportunity exists and could be solved.
These are valid areas that will help us form strategy. To position our people and resources to tackle problems and blind spots that will solve that recognized problem.
Although, as the latter notion points us to, there is that one step further where the real gems of strategy lie.
“The presumption that all important knowledge is already known…….deadens innovation” (Richard Rumelt – Good Strategy/Bad Strategy)
When we immerse ourselves in the spaces where problems, blind spots and opportunities “may” lie, we are pointing in the right direction. Of where these unknown unknowns are likely to surface.
The beauty is, there isn’t a prescriptive blueprint for finding these blind spots. The convoluted “silver bullet” strategy models don’t work here.
In fact, if we think we can sit down internally and focus the smartest group of people, they’ll appear. They typically don’t.
Instead, they begin to appear, in ways that we might not have expected.
In our experience, they most often become apparent by starting real conversations. Outside our four walls.
There are ways, from our experience, that put us in the zone.
Human-centred design is about immersing ourselves in spaces where communities and clients live every day. In other words, reminding ourselves there’s a real human at the end of the line.
Immersing ourselves in the tapestry of what people are thinking, feeling, hearing, saying, and doing. Not just surface-level stuff. But rather taking the time to understand & absorb – what’s really happening.
This helps us “really get” what’s making people tick.
Putting ourselves in the shoes of our community and customers. Not with the sole intention of uncovering a defined problem, solution, or great new idea. But rather to immerse ourselves in the unknowns.
The untold, the unshared, the subtext. That’s where real strategy lies.
In the words of Henry Ford back in 1908 “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” (Source: Harvard). Often, if we just ask people about their ideas on a problem that needs to be solved, or what they need or want. We’ll generally get answers like he would have.
But when we immerse ourselves in conversations outside our organisation, discovering the unknown unknowns. Things start to happen.
So what’s the point ?
Neil Armstrong – Apollo 11 Commander “If there were no unknowns, it would not be exploration, and there is little progress, and little satisfaction, in solving easy problems.” (Source: NASA).
In the significant change we’re living in, its time to start tapping into different ways of doing things.
Not a slight adjustment or a tweak to a service or offering that continues us down the path of “just keeping up with the competition”.
Rather, we can start to look at things from a perspective of blue oceans. Where we start to explore uncharted waters. So often, that’s where the blind spots and opportunities lie. The ones we’ve never noticed before. And yet often they are right under our nose.
We don’t have to fall into the trap of thinking we need to be “the smartest person in the room”. To go it alone.
Rather, start to have real conversations with customers, your community, and the broader market. About what they are seeing, feeling, hearing, and thinking.
Immerse yourself in their world.
Because when we do this, the unknown unknowns start to surface.
And that’s where the hidden gems lie.
For real life examples where we have applied this approach with significant outcomes or to learn more, get in contact here.