Knowing your known unknowns from your unknown unknowns and your unknown knowns


It’s a concept first noted by psychologists in the ’50s, commonly used inside NASA, and made famous by United States Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld regarding the Iraq war. However, known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns are the reason that all of us need a little outside advice every now and again, including businesses and their leaders.

  • To clarify, as you might expect, known unknowns refer to risks you are aware of.
  • Unknown unknowns are risks that you have no idea even exist. Perhaps industry disruptors sneaking up on you because you’ve been keeping too much of a focus on known competitors and industry leaders.
  • There are even unknown knowns; the disavowed beliefs, suppositions and habits of people and different global cultures perhaps. The things we pretend not to know about, even though they form the background of our public values, and may therefore have a significant role to play in the strategic planning of our businesses.

Who can tell you about your known unknowns?

We have a client, whose company is successful in its particular niche in the financial markets. In part, the reason they are successful is because the CEO/Founder is not from a traditional finance background. As a result, he has been able to see the industry from a fresh perspective, and approach his work from a different angle. As such, in selling a commodity (money) that is exactly the same as the commodity others in the same industry sell, he was able to differentiate himself.

However, while being able to present himself differently was an advantage, finance is still an industry where certain rules apply. So when it came to appointing Non Executive Directors, he sought two people. One that had a general business background, and another a former CMO whose experience was from the financial services industry.

You only know what you know – but an interim CMO knows something else

What our CEO was able to take from this was not only the ability to continue approaching his business with a fresh perspective, but also to ensure he wasn’t missing anything that he should be doing as to stay successful when there are so many fintechs trying to disrupt the industry and make it easier for clients.

As it turned out, many of the things he didn’t know about in the more traditional companies, were things he was doing instinctively anyway. However, having someone to reassure him that he wasn’t missing anything and that there weren’t any known unknowns he had missed, meant he could be confident in his decision making processes, and that he was doing everything he could to ensure the success of his business.

This is the value of an insightful outside perspective like those provided by the team at gigCMO. They’re not there to run your marketing team or business for you – although they are more than capable of doing so. They’re there to give you great advice and reassurance to help you make the best, and most informed, decisions possible for you and your business.