Exploring the Uncharted: Understanding 'Unknown Unknowns’

Our quest to uncover mysteries is what defines us, not the knowledge we already possess.


The Vast Landscape of Knowledge: More Unknown than Known

In all areas of knowledge, including psychology, technology, biology, physics, product development, economics, and business, there is a lot that we don't know as individuals. Despite our intelligence, knowledge, or experience, much of the total landscape of knowledge remains outside of our field of understanding.

Sure, the things we know nothing about outnumber the things we’re familiar with — but what about the things we don’t even know we know nothing about?

"We live on an island surrounded by a sea of ignorance. As our island of knowledge grows, so does the shore of our ignorance."

— John Archibald Wheeler

The problem is that we are often unaware of what we don't know. For any topic, whether personal, professional, political, scientific, societal, or cultural, there are a whole range of facts, facets, and nuances that we are ignorant of, without even realizing it. Think of it as exploring an ancient ruin in the dark, unaware of the true extent of the treasure, or dangers, it may hold.

Exploring the Dark: How 'Unknown Unknowns' Impact Our Professional Lives

Consider your professional field. You might be a pro when it comes to the ins and outs of your role — the 'known knowns'. You're also likely aware of the areas you need to grow in — your 'known unknowns'. But what about the shifts in industry trends you're oblivious to? Or innovative tools that could revolutionize your workflow? Or, perhaps, roles that you could thrive and excel in that go beyond your wildest dreams? Those are your 'unknown unknowns'.

Unknown unknowns exist everywhere, in every project we work on, with every human being we interact with, and for all topics that we are thinking about. To gain a deeper understanding of these secrets, we need to be humble and curious. We must acknowledge how much we don't know and be willing to explore. We must accept that our innate tendency to assume that we know what's true, or at least what's out there to be learned, is misleading. There's a lot more lingering in the dark.

In order to learn about the unknown, we must continue exploring and experimenting, while maintaining our curiosity. Our quest to uncover mysteries is what defines us, not the knowledge we already possess.

"The more you know, the more you know you don't know."

— Aristotle

Here are 3 other concepts you might benefit from:

The Streetlight Effect

The Map Is Not The Territory

False Dichotomies