Unknown unknowns

Dear {subscriber_first_name}

“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.”

Donald Rumsfeld presented this famously contorted statement on February 12, 2002 at a press briefing to explain the lack of evidence linking the government of Iraq with the supply of weapons of mass destruction to terrorist groups. At first sight you might say this is just the sort of gobbledygook you would expect to be cooked up by a politician under severe pressure, but I’m going to argue that hidden in these words is a simple truth which, when addressed, can help us to solve our toughest breakthrough innovation challenges.

A recent study by Doblin, the US based design and innovation consultancy, showed that 98% of successful innovations , including many we would describe as “breakthroughs”, brought to market over the last 10 years were based on existing knowledge explored and put together in new ways; only the 2% remainder being based on new knowledge. So, if breakthrough innovations are based on existing knowledge, how come we aren’t surrounded by market transformational products? In my view, the answer, as Donald Rumsfeld might put it, is “we don’t know what we don’t know”. In other words, major breakthroughs come when we successfully resolve our unknown unknowns. I hope you’re still with me.

If you are continuing to read, I’m going to go a little further by suggesting that the breakthrough innovation work we do at CoCatalyst is fundamentally about dealing with unknown unknowns. Working on client projects, we use our Directed Open Innovation process to uncover problems that the client has previously not recognised as such – you could describe these as unknown problems. We use the fresh insights we uncover from our analysis to connect with new to the client, but definitely not new to the world, knowledge and subject matter expertise. Our systematic process and wide ranging network enable us to connect rapidly to “ready-made” solutions which have already been tried and tested in other industry sectors – solutions which may also be totally unknown to the client. For example, in a recent project, we helped a multinational glass container producer make radical reductions in CO2 emissions by bringing in highly relevant, well-proven technologies which the client’s own subject matter experts simply knew nothing about.

So perhaps Donald Rumsfeld was onto something after all, click here to find out how we can help you to transform your business by dealing with your unknown unknowns.