The Known Unknowns

There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.

Donald Rumsfeld

I like how Rumsfeld puts it:

Known knowns > Known unknowns > Unknown unknowns

When it doubt, shift left. Identify what you don’t know. Then come up with a strategy to deal with it. When done, collect lessons learned and turn the knowledge into wisdom. Oftentimes, making progress is as simple as that.

Photo credit: “Joint press conference of Donald Rumsfeld and David Tevzadze (May 7, 2002)” by Helene C. Stikkel on Wikimedia Commons (source)


Napoleon Bonaparte
Portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte by Jacques-Louis David (finished 1813)

“A commander in chief [manager] cannot take as an excuse for his mistakes in warfare [business] an order given by his minister [boss] or sovereign [boss’ boss], when the person giving the order is absent from the field and is imperfectly aware or wholly unaware of the state of affairs.

It follows that any commander in chief [manager], who undertakes to carry out a plan which he considers defective, is at fault. He must put forward his reasons, insist on the plan being changed, and as a last resort tender his resignation—rather than be the instrument of his army’s [organization’s/team’s] downfall.”

From Military Maxims and Thoughts by Napoleon Bonaparte

Clearly, management disconnect is nothing new. It was a thing during the Napoleonic era from the late 18th to the early 19th century. It was probably a thing thousands of years back, when an earlier iteration of civilisation was still erecting pyramids.