Unknown Unknowns #30 - Exploration
2 min read

Unknown Unknowns #30 - Exploration

There was a minor family health issue last week, so between that and Thanksgiving this week, I decided to have one issue for the two weeks and send it out today.  Everyone's fine, and we will be spending Thanksgiving at my parents.

This Week:


I unfortunately wasn't able to finish my diaspora essay (it will be done next week, promise!) but I did tweet about something I shared a couple weeks ago.  Cedric Chin (who writes the terrific CommonPlace blog) reviewed a book called Complexity and concluded that the world is made up of Complex Adaptive Systems, and is therefore impossible to predict.  The solution, Acting Without Predicting, sounds suspiciously like Tasshin's Conditions-Consequences.
If you can't predict the future, all you can do is do your best in the present moment.

Targeting a specific outcome has two problems: you don't know if that outcome is actually good, and it's uncertain whether or not you will accomplish it.

When you targeting a goal you are also more likely to use metrics, which introduces another problem:  Goodhart's Law - "When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure."


I named this newsletter Unknown Unknowns, but I don't think I've ever really talked about this concept.  I've tried to share ideas that are thought provoking and reveal blind spots.  I think the way most people find unknown unknowns is through other people.  But today's pieces show a few other methods.

David Epstein discusses the concept of unknown unknowns in the context of the  reversal of the recommendation of prophylactic use of aspirin.  He quotes Daniel Kahneman:

WYSIATI (What You See Is All There Is) means that we use the information we have as if it is the only information. We don't spend much time saying, "Well, there is much we don't know." We make do with what we do know. And that concept is very central to the functioning of our mind.

And David shares how he tries to avoid this problem.

=> Article Here

Ron Friedman writes about reverse engineering.  If you see an unknown unknown from someone else, how can you apply that idea to yourself?

=> Article Here

Gell-Mann amnesia is when you hear about a topic that your familiar with, and you know the speaker is wrong.  But then you hear them talk about another topic that you're unfamiliar with, and you forget that they were wrong.  A big example is the news.  I see Gell-Mann amnesia as a huge opportunity to explore your unknown unknowns.  Instead of blindly believing authority figures, explore deeper.

=> Article Here


If you ask these questions to yourself, what does this reveal about how you prioritize?  This is a great cue to see the biggest unknown unknown, your motivation.  If something is the "most important" and you're not working on it, that is a huge blindspot.

Questions, suggestions, complaints?  Email me me at [email protected].  Feedback welcome.

If you enjoyed this newsletter, please share it with a friend or two.  And feel free to send anything you find interesting to me!

Have a great week,