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19 Jun 2010

Knowledge States

While helping a non-profit, a board member said, “We can only deal with a problem if we know there is one.” Here the state knowledge assumes alters our perspective. In this case, it causes us to ignore the idea of prevention, dealing with problems before they arise. In reality, problems don’t care whether we know or prove they exist. Thus, if knowledge’s form can alter our perspective and prevent us from seeing potential solutions, it is important to have a grasp on the different states of knowledge.

To that end, I’ve created the map to the right. It has five basic states: Unknown, Aware, Know, Prove and Quantify. Each is a subset of the previous one:

Knowledge Map

Knowledge Map


  • Unknown: Not knowing what we don’t know
  • Aware: Knowing what we don’t know, or not being able to express what we do know
  • Know: Knowing without proof but being able to express what we know
  • Prove: Using approaches that adhere closely to the scientific method or the one used in courts of law.
  • Quantify: Being able to count, calculate or formulate.

By looking at knowledge’s states in this manner, we see how much reality we exclude if we only accept what is quantifiable and provable. Imagine in warfare or the game of poker if we took no action unless we could prove it was the right one. Business is not immune to this. Therefore, success is more determined by how we treat what we don’t know or barely know and not by how we treat what we can prove and quantify. Thus, if we lived by the advice of the board member above, we would surely fail without a great amount of fortune.

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