The Value Of Knowing What You Don’t Know You Don’t Know

The Value Of Knowing What You Don’t Know You Don’t Know

It’s an obvious thing to say, but we go through life knowing what we know and what we don’t know. And, of course, running a business is no different.

For example, an accountant knows that they’re great with taxation and financial strategy, and know that they are not so hot on marketing and networking.

A Web Developer will know the language needed to create your ideal website. They may also know that their knowledge is weaker in bookkeeping and branding.

Yet, it’s not these areas that I want to focus on. It’s the unknown unknowns that trip up many business owners. This happens when you come face to face with a challenge that you weren’t expecting and don’t possess the knowledge needed to overcome it.

This was famously brought to light by Donald Rumsfeld in 2002, who was United States Secretary of Defense at the time, during his response about the lack of evidence linking the government of Iraq with the supply of weapons of mass destruction to terrorist groups. He said:

“Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also 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. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tends to be the difficult ones.”

…and that last comment applies to running a business too.

In this “matrix of knowledge,” the four quadrants represent the following:

  1. A) What you know that you know,
  2. B) What you don’t know that you know,
  3. C) What you know that you don’t know
  4. D) What you don’t know that you don’t know.

Matrix of Knowledge

Hopefully have quadrant A covered, but a business mentor can have a positive, tangible impact on quadrants B, C, and especially D.

Here are examples of what I mean:

B) The answer lies in the information you’ve collected – CRM, customer/competitor analysis, bookkeeping data, etc. You just need to know how to analyse it effectively.

C) You know the questions, but don’t have the information or data to help you answer them. These can be anything, of course, but tends to centre on customers and cash flow.

D) This knowledge comes from new insights that you would have never thought to ask about, because you didn’t know it was an issue. Even when trying to solve challenges in quadrants B and C, you can’t include solutions that you don’t know about because you’ve never had the experience.

In another post, I wrote about how important it can be to ask for help, but that’s easy when you have questions to answer and, as Mike Tyson (okay, not a man whose success has come from entrepreneurship, but keep reading) said “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face”

But, who do you turn to when you need help for the business? Or, more importantly, who do you turn to when don’t know what the question is?

One of the biggest benefits of having a business mentor is having someone you can ask the questions that you do know, as well as help you look at problems and situations from perspectives that you would not have thought of on your own. Also, having a credible business mentor to turn to can give you the confidence that’s needed when facing difficult business situations.

Action Point

If you don’t have one already, get yourself a mentor.

Either search through your trusted connections on LinkedIn, look for one on or get in touch with me here.

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