Risk Blindness

What’s worse than “I told you so”?

There is only one thing worse than siren calls of “I told you so” when things go wrong: It’s when someone says

“I could have told you that would happen.”

At this point you need to suppress your raging desire to say “well, why didn’t you then?” and figure out if your process missed the opportunity to pre-empt the problem.

Rumsfeld and Gough

In a recent blog, The Rumsfeld Guide to Project Management, John Gough reminds us of Rumsfeld’s timeless wisdom:

“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 now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. These are things we do not know we don’t know”.

John encourages us to focus on the known unknowns, because we can.  He has also considered a log of Unknown Unknowns… and it’s blank.

Sorry John, can’t help you

In my younger days, as a research physicist (there go the dinner party invites), the unknown unknowns were what we lived for, and I still read New Scientist every week to see which ones have become known knowns, or at least known unknowns.  As a project manager, though, this is all just semantic gobbledygook.

Good grief – the spell checker
actually accepted gobbledygook!

Hang on, there’s one missing

John didn’t even mention the subject of this blog.  What about the “Unknown Knowns”?  These are the things we know, but are not discussed.  Someone knows something and is not telling.

Why?  Probably because it is not evident to them that it is in any way relevant.  And if we cannot get sufficient good information flow through our project, then maybe they never will.

Luft and Ingham
The Johari Window

In 1955, Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham developed a personal development tool called the Johari Window (from Jo & Harry – gettit?)  You can download a short article on the Johari Window from here.


One pane of the window is labelled the “Blind Area”.  This is an area about ourselves – things that we are unaware of about ourselves, but that others see all too clearly.

Projects have a Blind Area.

There are things about your project that other people know, but unless you communicate well and invite their feedback, this information will remain invisible to you as project manager.

The “so what?”

Who may be able to see into your project’s Blind Area? How can you engage them?  Tackle it now.

… oh yes, and check out John Gough’s excellent blog, iJournal.


2 thoughts on “Risk Blindness

  1. Glen B Alleman

    Great material and thanks for the link to John Gough.

    The UNK UNK always call for replanning.

    INSEAD has a series of papers on managing in the presence of uncertainty, that you can find on their site


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