This Is a Great Mental Model To Help Us Remember We Have Blindspots

It’s called unknown unknowns and is well worth learning

Julia Clavien
Nov 11, 2019 · 2 min read

This mental model is a simple idea that’s particularly easy to internalize and apply! 🧠

What are unknown unknowns?

US politician Donald Rumsfeld actually popularized this one back in 2002 when he answered a reporters questions like this:

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.

I’m steering clear of the politics related to the message, let’s instead just crystalize the mental model which includes three main components:

1. Known Knowns

Things we are aware of and understand. In other words knowledge that’s we’ve identified we have.

2. Known Unknowns

Things we are aware of but do not understand. Or gaps in our knowledge that we’ve identified we have.

3. Unknown Unknowns

Things we are neither aware of nor understand. These are the blindspots we have — we haven’t identified the knowledge we don’t have.

Want to go deeper?

🔖 OK here’s the politics related to the Rumsfeld quote if you’re still curious!

🔖 Here’s a guide from HBR on suggested ways to spot unknown unknowns.

📧 Like learning mental models? Check out the newsletter here.

Julia Clavien

Written by

Curious to a fault. Technology | Psychology | Philosophy. All opinion subject to change. ☺ linktr.ee/juliaclavien

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade