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Knowledge Quadrants

We can divide knowledge into four general categories:

  • Known knowns – this describes knowledge we have and we are aware that we have it
  • Known unknowns – this describes knowledge we don’t have and we are aware that we don’t have it
  • Unknown knowns – this describes knowledge that have but we are not aware that we have it
  • Unknown unknowns – this describes knowledge that we don’t have and we are not aware that we don’t have it

We spend most of our time working on “known knowns”, categorizing and organizing them, fitting them together to find solutions for problems, and playing with them like old favorite toys. We spend some time seeking out pieces of knowledge that we know are missing and filling them in. Some of us spend time trying to discern knowledge that we have accumulated without identifying it. But very few of us spend any time at all trying to find unknown unknowns.

An expert level skill in knowledge engineering is the art of defining unknown unknowns by using knowledge maps and boundary analysis to find areas that are sparsely populated, vacant or even entirely missing from the map. The definition of the map is critical to this process, because done poorly it can exclude areas that we are not aware of. The map needs to be drawn with scrupulous attention to levels of abstraction and an attempt to make the map match the territory as closely as possible.