Unleash the full potential of your business in the digital world

Developing Strategy Under Uncertainty: Applying the Known-Unknown Matrix

James Huang | 2023.06.07

Have you ever been in a situation where someone tells you something you've never heard of, and they look at you like you're an idiot? The simple reply to that is "You Don't Know What You Don't Know". Throughout life, you will find yourself repeating this well-known saying along with "It Is What It Is". From my personal experiences, I have realised that I have fast-tracked myself to learn new things. However, by doing so, I have sometimes missed the basics that people expect me to know but that I have never heard of before.

Mindset Risk Management

Like any risk management strategy, you plan out, there are four categories:

  1. Known-knowns (knowledge),
  2. Unknown-knowns (impact is unknown but existence is known, i.e., untapped knowledge),
  3. Known-unknowns (risks), and
  4. Unknown-unknowns (unfathomable uncertainty).

If you adapt your knowledge-is-power mindset to this risk management strategy, it will keep you grounded. Even if you are at the top of your game, mindset risk management will keep you eager to improve.

The Knowledge Matrix

Your knowledge can be broken down into four categories, which help identify how knowledge plays a key role in your industry. The image below is called the knowledge matrix, and explains more about the different perspectives you can have with knowledge.

I find the knowledge matrix interesting as it creates a sense of awareness of how vital learning new knowledge can be. For example, when you enter a new job, you won't know everything about the industry straight away, and only time and effort will help you reach your maximum potential. Missing knowledge can be the key factor that halts your career from progressing. You shouldn't be ashamed to admit that there are gaps within your knowledge, as recognising this is fundamental for you to progress.

You Don't Know What You Don't Know Quotes

Here are some classic quotes that fit well into this article:

"If I had only known…"

An absolute classic where, in hindsight, if you had known the outcome, you probably would have done it differently.

"If I knew then what I know now…"

I hate this saying because everyone says this, but the truth is age and experience give you the know-how. So forget saying if I was 20 and knew what I know now, then I would be a millionaire or whatever because that is a pathetic quote. If that were the case, just do the lottery because you would know the numbers going back in time.

"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."

The last quote is a classic by Donald Rumsfeld. Donald Rumsfeld coined this phrase in response to questions about whether terrorism intelligence. There are too many unknowns, too many factors that we may not have yet considered. It sums up well that there are many unknown-unknowns. And this unknown-unknown to yourself is where you get this look I mentioned in the opening paragraph "they look at you surprised and like you are an idiot".

You Never Know What is Around The Corner

You never know what's around the corner. It could be everything you ever wished for, or it could be absolutely nothing. But this is where you make sure you progress and keep moving forward because then you can turn around many corners until you find your dreams.

A different explanation of "around the corner" is in the near future or just ahead of us. Make sure you find out what is around that corner because then it will eliminate those unknown-unknowns.

What the Future Holds

Industries are constantly evolving as new knowledge is being discovered every day, and it's evident that businesses are looking for more knowledgeable employees as time goes on. It is imperative to accept the fact that you need to constantly learn new knowledge to succeed in your career.

Look at the history of an average person. When you went through school, your brain was exposed to new information, and this led to you having a better idea of what career you wish to pursue. Without this exposure to new information, do you think you would have decided on the job you have today?

There is an old saying that you have probably heard before:

"Every day is a school day"

As hokey as this sounds, the wise person who coined this phrase (Alastair Humphreys) is correct. Every day, you are constantly learning new things, but just imagine what your future would be like if you proactively looked for new information. Some answers will randomly come to you, but others you will have to search for, and only then will you realise the difference knowledge has. Coming from a CEO of multiple companies, I would rather have an employee that doesn't know certain things but wants to seek that knowledge than someone who knows the industry but refuses to learn new things.

Enjoy Today As There Might Not be a Tomorrow

You hear about people who are fit as a fiddle one minute and on their deathbed the next. Nobody knows when disease will strike, when their fortune will change, or when their karma will catch up with them. The whole meaning of "You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know" tells you to make the most of everything you enjoy now. The future is waiting for you to create it. How it turns out is up to you.

Strive To Improve

Reading this should tell you that nobody knows everything. People might think they know everything, but they are the ones who are very weak. Striving to improve your knowledge and yourself as an individual is key to success and happiness. The brain really is your servant, and you need to be training it just like you do going to the gym to train your muscles every day.

Many people nowadays quickly get distracted on social media, and I strongly recommend reading this article on finding your flow state of mind to stay focused on learning something new each day. This can literally be as little as 20 minutes per day, but finding your flow state with no distractions.

Fail Regularly

Not knowing the unknowns is all the more reason to push the boundaries. If you have never failed, then you have never tested how far you can push the boundaries, so that is bad. Embrace failure because then you know the boundary of how far you can push things. Talking from experience, failure has led to me coming up with fantastic ideas and has changed my life for the better. Failure is a sign of what can be improved upon, and to be aware of this boundary is fantastic, as you can give yourself the aim of breaking it.

Perspectives Towards Failure

As you have probably figured out from reading my blog, I meet a lot of different people. From clients to CEOs, I have been made aware of the steps they've taken to live a life they've dreamed of, but so many of them have this mindset that failure is something to be ashamed of.

I cannot blame them. The English language does not even like the word failure as the definition is:

"lack of success."

I cannot stand this definition. I mean seriously, could there be a more demoralising definition for this word? After talking with some of you, I believe that ALL of you would not have the lifestyle and job you have today without failure.

A fantastic example is the case revolving around Thomas Edison. Did you know it took him 10,000 failed prototypes until he figured out the answer on how to create the first electric lightbulb? As he famously said:

"I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work."

Failure leads to the answer as it shows you the wrong answer. Data suggests that 70% of people who encounter failure will give up after the first sign, but look how far we've come with just 30% of people not giving up. Be a part of the 30% who search for the right answer through failure.


As I'm writing this, I hope that reading this article has given you a better idea that knowledge isn't something you are born with, but something you need to have a desire to look for. Whether your goal is to earn more money, figure out what career is right for you, post your journey online, or simply be the best version of yourself, history has shown us that progress happened because of the few people who wanted to know what they didn't know. Fill those gaps in your knowledge today, and I promise you that you will become successful and live a happy life.

Developing Strategy Under Uncertainty: Applying the Known-Unknown Matrix
Share this post
My view to Apple Vision Pro
Addressing the future needs of children today