Feb
16
2011

Know What You Don’t Know (Part 1)

“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 #1 bestseller at Amazon right now if Donald Rumsfeld’s memoir Known and Unknown. I’m planning to pick up the 850 page behemoth. I recall training my debate teams to think like Rumsfeld, and here’s how.

The media had a good laugh at Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld’s expense after being grilled by a hostile media over the initial course of the Iraq War. Answering a question from a reporter, Rumsfeld riddled off this most quoted comment.

Watch this video. You can hear the media chuckling at the end of the quote. They didn’t understand what he was trying to explain, so rather than ask for understanding (like reporters ought to do) they mocked him. Rumsfeld was even awarded the annual Foot in Mouth award from the Plain English Campaign as a “baffling comment by a public figure.” Slate Magazine made fun of Rumsfeld claiming the statement was an attempt to avoid answering tough questions.

What the media didn’t know was that such mockery was proving his point: they didn’t know what they didn’t know. They didn’t know. What Rumsfeld was saying was at the essence of the anti-terror campaign of the Pentagon, and without such intelligence, the country would be vulnerable to more attacks. Decision theorists have held “unknown unknowns” as a basic premise of wisdom for eons, even though the Pentagon Press didn’t. The statement was incredibly profound, one of the most important lessons in knowing how to think: Know what you don’t know.

I have a Part II queued up for tomorrow next week, but I want to ask you first. Do you think Rumsfeld is nuts? Or does what he said make sense?

About Chris Jeub

Chris is the father of 16 children, busily running the family businesses and learning the depths of love along the way.

  • Emerys4christ

    In the video he spoke pretty clearly to me, it’s the press that wasn’t paying attentionand really listening.

    • Anonymous

      That’s what I think, too. Tomorrow’s post brings this home.

  • Anonymous

    It makes perfect sense!

  • Anonymous

    I like him and get what he is saying. He was right, history bears that out .

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