What is known and what is unknown? Or how Donald Rumsfeld, the Johari window and a business health check are linked

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Company Pulse business health check

What is known and what is unknown? Or how Donald Rumsfeld, the Johari window and a business health check are linked

Donald Rumsfeld’s famous quote about “knowns” and “unknowns” (reproduced in full below) was illuminating in that he missed out “unknown knowns”!

The Johari window is a useful psychology tool for understanding relationships between a subject (self) and others (peers) that categorises awareness of information (in the psychologists’ case, character traits) into 4 quadrants:

• Open or Arena, where both the subject and others are aware;
• Hidden or Façade, where information is known by the subject but not by others;
• Blind Spot, where the subject is not aware, but others are; and
• Unknown, where neither the subject nor others are aware.

This tool can also be applied to companies in respect of knowledge in the business environment. The Open quadrant contains information in the public domain, such as statutory accounts or demographic trends; the Hidden may include trade secrets, commercially sensitive data and pricing algorithms; the Blind Spot could comprise customer sentiments being aired on social media, new entrants or processes that you are not (yet) aware of; and the Unknown hold anything from future fashion trends to undiscovered new technologies.

As in personal relationships, the main benefits to business from using the Johari window are in becoming aware of things in the Blind Spot and tackling them appropriately.

In business, many items of information move from one quadrant to another, whereas your personality traits tend not to change much. Your new invention will start in the Hidden quadrant until you register a patent, when it moves into the Open quadrant (albeit protected from exploitation by others). Much information moves from your Blind Spot to the Open quadrant as you learn more about your customers and competitors. But things can also get forgotten or overlooked and move the other way – material once considered important but now buried in a dusty file. And, of course, new technologies, business processes and market trends emerge from the Unknown. Because of these movements, businesses should not consider their Johari window as a one-off exercise, but should keep reviewing it for changes, perhaps annually.

One major benefit from taking one of our business health checks is that it will normally reveal to you things currently in your Blind Spot. These are issues that you have never been aware of or not paid much attention to, but that our market and industry intelligence can bring to your attention. We may also remind you about important factors that have dropped off your radar. Whilst, as Rumsfeld acknowledged, you can’t do much about things that are Unknown, you can improve your business performance by minimising your Blind Spot.

When Rumsfeld talked about “known knowns” (Open quadrant), “known unknowns” (Hidden) and “unknown unknowns” (Unknown), he failed to mention “unknown knowns” (the Blind Spot). Perhaps this was his subconscious Blind Spot?

So don’t get caught out by things in your Blind Spot. Uncovering them and dealing with them effectively is vital, especially as the business environment changes an “unknown known” becomes significant to your business.

Donald Rumsfeld quotation (Feb-2002 at a US Department of Defense briefing)

“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 tend to be the difficult ones.”

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