Sunday, November 16, 2008

Blast from the past: The eternal dilemma according to Donald Rumsfeld

There are known knowns. There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we do not know we don’t know.

Donald Rumsfeld, 2002


At 11/16/2008 7:31 AM, Blogger Andrew Shields said...

At some point, I came across something which said that Rumsfeld was quoting a management-seminar guru with this point. Unfortunately, I cannot recall the guru's name, and Googling just gets you Rummy.

And there's a band in DC called "The Known Unknowns"!

At 11/16/2008 7:44 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Yepper. From wikipedia:

The term was in use within the United States military establishment long before Rumsfeld's quote to the press in 2002. The earliest known use of the term comes from a paper entitled Clausewitz and Modern War Gaming: losing can be better than winning by Raymond B. Furlong, Lieutenant General, USAF (Ret.) in the Air University Review, July-August 1984:

“ To those things Clausewitz wrote about uncertainty and chance, I would add a few comments on unknown unknowns--those things that a commander doesn't even know he doesn't know. Participants in a war game would describe an unknown unknown as unfair, beyond the ground rules of the game. But real war does not follow ground rules, and I would urge that games be "unfair" by introducing unknown unknowns.[4]

At 11/16/2008 7:49 AM, Blogger Andrew Shields said...

Your research was more successful than mine! Thanks.

At 11/16/2008 9:03 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

I've always thought Wikipedia gets a bad rap. It's the first place I go with questions like Rummy...

At 11/16/2008 11:32 AM, Blogger Andrew Shields said...

Oh, I use it all the time. It's even useful for translating, because you can find the page for something like the name of a plant, and then click to the target language to get the name of the plant there! Somedays you have to follow up a bit, but it gives you a starting point.

At 11/16/2008 1:45 PM, Blogger Steve Halle said...

This quote, despite its military origins, has been an interesting one that keeps coming up for me over and over again. It's nice to see it again here.

Maybe what perplexes me the most is the absence of unknown knowns or things we do not know we know. As a writer, that iteration or version might be the most important, even if unknown unknowns is the most interesting and mysterious notion.

At 11/16/2008 1:50 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

The things we know, but we don't know we know. Lovely. I agree. Art, well done, calls to back to those things. What a nice way to conceptualize it.


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