My Pi-spective on Explanation

(A pi-spective is where you write about something in 314 words. For those counting, this post has lots of hyphenated words. My word processor counted each compound word as one word. Just saying)

Make a two by two matrix. Write 'known' and 'unknown' on each axis. This gives a 'known-known', a 'known-unknown', an 'unknown-known and an 'unknown-unknown'.

Three of these are fairly straightforward. A known-known has some degree of certainty to it, like the orbit of the Moon around the Earth. An unknown-unknown is an all bets off proposition, like the spiritual beliefs of the Rhode Island Red. A known-unknown has some shape around the matter at hand, like what happens in a black hole.

It's the unknown-known that we need to watch for. And in business, as in much of life, it's what accounts for so many of our problems. An unknown-known is something that is not known but which we believe to be known.

In other words, it is the realm of delusion. Or conceit. Or guesswork taken too far. Or bullshit. Take your pick.

The tricky thing about the unknown-known is that we end up treating it as a known rather than an unknown. Part of what is going on here is our brain's abhorrence of uncertainty. We hate gaps. We hate not knowing. So we fill those gaps in. We thought-experiment our way into causality and confidence where none exists, or should exist.

I suspect that, in the world of management, we spend much of our time in the world of the unknown-known as if it were the known-known. Anytime someone produces a classification framework is a good time to question just where we are on the matrix of explanation.

Diagnosis by classification framework is about as accurate for organizational phenomena as 'animal, mineral or vegetable' is for natural phenomena.

We can be primed to recognize any phenomenon as pertaining to our particular organization. And once we identify with it, any doubt of the phenomenon becomes doubt about us. And no-one likes to be doubted.

Beware the familiar intuitive explanation. Beware the unknown-known.

Image by Pavel Kadysz via FancyCrave