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Take Time To Know The Unknown Knowns – We Have Always Needed Them.

Take time to know the Unknown Knowns – we have always needed them.

Innovation thinking is flawed when it doesn’t include the Unknown Knowns.

Let’s think this through.

Known knowns: there are things we know we know (or we think we do…). These are expected or foreseeable conditions which we keep to the front of thinking and practice. It is our way of constructing a secure base from which to do the things we do (though perhaps we are not always aware of the defence mechanisms we are deploying to create it and thereby omit somethings in order to achieve what we are achieving).

Known unknowns: there are some things we know we do not know (but might do … see below): things which can be reasonably anticipated but not quantified based on past experience, perhaps best made visible in case histories. Known unknowns result from aspects that are recognised but poorly understood.

Unknown unknowns: there are some things we don’t know we don’t know.  Such unexpected or unforeseeable things pose a potentially greater risk simply because they cannot be anticipated because there is no prior experience or theoretical basis (based on past experience or investigation).


There is also another one of this series.

Unknown knowns: those things we know but we have not researched and so we do not know we know. We know them but are not in our consciousness. Sometimes there may be an intentional refusal to know (“only ask questions you know the answer to” and/or “don’t ask questions that you know the answer to” – often about the “beliefs, suppositions and practices we pretend not to know about, even though they form the background of our public values” says Slovoj Zizek 2009). Mostly though it is so much a part of everyday living we have never taken a moment to recognise its importance, and so we have not researched or written on it, and so it doesn’t get into literature reviews. The everyday gets elbowed out by the innovative (do you hear that voice saying baby and bathwater …?)

Sociologists Daase and Kessler (2007) propose that the cognitive frame for practice may be determined by the relationship between “what we know, what we do not know, what we cannot know”, and we need not to leave out what we do not like to know. This is the basis of risk assessment.

Some of the most important things in the care and recovery of children are the things we do every day. As we do them every day they may seem mundane, washing up for example, they may not be imbued with the charismatic that is something new.

It might be though that they are the precursors or the actual mechanisms for change. There may be no evidence base for their efficacity. However, when they are not there you realise just how effective they are.

There may be no formal evidence base but perhaps there is a substantial experiential base to the degree that we could say that it has had the most rigorous researching and analysis, more than a small-scale research study.

Everyday living is the most rigorous random controlled trial.

If it has survived as a practice, it has a provenance. Its effectiveness has become so certain that it has been accepted into the everyday. Something we do not even think about. It doesn’t mean it is always a good practice, or that it cannot be improved upon. However, learning from working with children always know what is going to happen if the defences that allow the child to function are removed. Any innovation needs thinking about. Sometimes other things need to happen before it. Learning from the children again, never interpret but create conditions by which a child will come to learn. A wise person in child care often used to say, ‘If it isn’t going to make things better, don’t do it.’

You don’t get breakthrough without many days of everyday insistency, persistency and consistency. The top level of the Maslow triangle is only possible with the other stages being present.

A mindset of innovation, and of literature reviews based solely on the past 5 years, is that we look for things that are new. Such work is helpful for reflection. If used in such a way it can bring incremental gains.

Coaching of athletes uses this type of applied reflection.

Watch the field events – there are very few moments that change things dramatically, like the Fosbury flop or bendy poles, or miraculously, like Jonathan Edwards triple jump. More often it’s small amounts of improvement. This smallest step is made on the basis of years of training and coaching. Things done every day for years provide the secure base upon which to make an incremental gain and thereby, perhaps, make a small step forwards.