Unknown unknowns and the serendipitous nature of our lives…

Nabhan, my son, is perhaps the wildest of all cards that nature has played into my hand.

Nabhan was born on 12th February 2002 and on the same day, Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary, said the following in a DoD press briefing:

Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me because, as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tends to be the difficult ones.


My first HR textbook was from an author named Michael Boella. I got a copy of his book on people management in hospitality in my teens, early to mid-1990s. One of the concepts I grew a liking to is the Johari Window. What Rumsfeld said that day is quite similar to the Johari window conceptually. I thought then, and still think, that this could provide a potential framework for discovering our own selves. Self-awareness and self-discovery should be lifelong journeys.

Around the same time, in 1995 Charlie Munger gave his famous The psychology of human misjudgment. In this talk, Munger compares some of the popular psychological concepts and how people working in different domains, and specialists in different disciplines use the same traits in human nature to understand and manipulate us.

It was not long after that Professors David Dunning and Justin Kruger wrote about what is now famously called ‘the Dunning-Kruger’ effect which is a way of explaining how some people with fewer skills in an area tend to overestimate their competence.

I believe all these concepts should be applied to the self instead of trying to understand other people through these lenses. We should be able to see inwards through these lenses.


There is so much we don’t know. There could also be a lot more things that we don’t know that we don’t know. We are fallible creatures. We will always make ‘mistakes’ as judged by others, and acknowledging this, accepting this and constantly reminding ourselves of this is one of the best defences against overconfidence.


About Hassan Saeed

I am a lifelong learner. I learn every day and I learn from everybody I interact with - I live with this simple philosophy. My goal is to help spread knowledge and information that helps people get better every day. Learning should fit into everyone's daily routine. Learning should empower individuals to achieve more and drive them towards excellence and perfection.
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