Sunday, November 20, 2011

The 4 classes of knowledge

A concept made infamous by Donald Rumfeld, but he only identified 3 out of 4. I think of the classes of knowledge as a grid.

Reality: Known and Unknown
Perception: Known and Unknown

Reality vs Perception.
       K   U
 K  | A | B |

 U  | C | D |

Grid A: Known Known : things that you know that you know. e.g. Your name, your address, your mother's voice, 1 + 1 = 2, etc.

Grid B: Known Unknown : things that you know that you don't know. Unless you are a physics major, you know that you don't know Quantum Mechanics, why E=MC^2, or how to proof that 1 + 1= 2.

Grid C: Unknown Known : things that you didn't know that you know. We all have gut feelings that we intuitively know to be true or false but can't articulate. We make unconscious, unspoken assumption and biases. For example, behavioral economics is all about understanding people decision patterns. People would automatically place greater value and preference for things they own, even when they are randomly chosen.

Grid D:  Unknown Unknown : In this infinitely interrelated world, where the flutter of a butterfly can influence weather pattern, it's impossible for us to know all the possible dependencies or outcomes of our decisions. We are always faced with unknown unknown.

So.... why are these classifications of knowledge useful? I use these 4 classes of knowledge to execute a strategy of learning and better decision making. 

This is very useful pattern for serious decision making. It helps me to think strategically over time about how risky and confident I feel about a decision. I rephrase the 4 classification this way.

Grid A : the facts that I know and confirm to be true. Over time, the objective is to increase the scope of A. However, things changes, new research comes along, what we knew to be true once, changes. It's a constant effort to keep up. The main risk for knowledge in grid A is over-confidence and being obsolete. Take the time to challenge your knowledge and reconfirm.

Grid B : the questions that I know enough to ask. Again, take the time to make a list of questions and people that might be able to help. Longer the list the better. Don't be scared of novice questions and be sure to cross check anything you learned with another source. It's a deliberate process to increase the scope of A by eliminating questions from grid B.

Grid C : Never fully ignore your gut instinct and never fully listen to your gut either. Things are most interesting when there is disconnect. Either way, your rational mind hesitates but your gut says just do it, or vice verse, There is no such thing like a brain in the gut. It's our right hemisphere brain sending strong signals of caution or excitement. The right brain doesn't have capacity for language, but it has the big picture, it understands the inter-dependencies. The right brain communicates through the gut and the heart. It's the feeling when your heart races at 100 beats per minute, It's the twisted feeling in your gut. Either way, until the two parts of the brain are fully harmonized, you must revisit everything in grid A and B. To better understand the disconnect, I try to make a list of biases and assumptions. Try to put your feelings into written words. Biases and feelings are neither bad nor good. It's an important part of the decision process to acknowledge that you have strong feelings and biases and if possible revisit the biases and challenge yourself to change or reconfirm them.

Grid D : Like dark matters in the universe, we can't see them, but we can indirectly measure them if we have enough tools and smarts at our disposal. When we are faced with a new decision, there is a vast amount of unknown. At first new knowledge trickles in slowly then it becomes a rush, especially if you have good mentors and friends and access to professional help. I can't know the scope and size of things in grid D. However, there will come a point when the rate of the new knowledge gained slows down, and there has been multiple confirmation of the same data. Do you know everything you need, probably not. However, you probably know enough to made a good decision and have a backup plan in case your assumption are wrong.

All elements of good decisions are here..
1) see multiple options in non black / white terms
2) harmony between gut, heart, and mind
3) understanding of the risks
4) backup plans for the unexpected

By categorizing knowledge and acknowledging the unknown, you can execute a strategic plan to increase knowledge, eliminate unknown, and achieve the end result of a better decision.

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