Diversity in Knowledge and the 4 Forms of “Knowing”

Written by James O. Rodgers

Optimal operational efficiency and innovation is achieved when an organization draws from the widest and deepest knowledge base possible. In order to do this, its important to recognize the four categories of things that can be known. First there are the things that we know and that we are aware of knowing. I know, for instance, that the earth is round. I also know that I know this. These are the sorts of “facts” we usually mean when we talk about knowledge

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Second there are things that we know but that we don’t know that we know. These things might pop up when we are in an unfamiliar situation and we find ourselves thinking about something that we had never thought about before, but that we realize we have known all along. Third there’s the things that you know that you don’t know. These might be things you are actively trying to learn or things that you are aware of but that might not be relevant to you. I know, for instance, that I don’t know how to build an internal combustion engine. I could try to learn this or I could simply decide that I don’t need to know this. 

Finally, there’s the things we don’t even know that we don’t know. Our ignorance of these things is so complete that we aren’t even aware that they constitute a gap in our knowledge. Because the universe is as big as it is and the human capacity to know is as limited as it is, this last category is by far the biggest one. Therefore, if you are going to grow your knowledge base, this category is an untapped resource that needs to be put to work.

Only when we can create a space where different kinds of people feel comfortable sharing their different kinds of knowledge can we begin to know the things that we don’t even know we don’t know.