by Richard Martin

I facilitated a business continuity planning meeting last week with one of my clients, a mid-sized life insurance company. One of our objectives was to examine scenarios with business continuity impacts.

Upon consideration, it was apparent that several departments in the company had already encountered similar situations and developed informal processes and procedures to deal with them. However, it was also apparent that much of this valuable experience was dormant within these groups, and there was no ready way to extract the knowledge and share it throughout the company.

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Such information is typical of what I call “unknown knowns.” This is knowledge that exists somewhere in the organization, usually informally and in the experiences of individuals or small teams, but that remains unknown by senior management and the wider organization. I developed this idea as a result of extending former US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s musing about known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns.

If you build a two-by-two matrix you end up with a fourth quadrant, the unknown knowns. This is potentially highly valuable knowledge that is partially dormant and inaccessible to the whole organization. It can be useful for readiness, risk management, and business continuity preparation. But even more, there can be a treasure trove of client information, competitive intelligence, and operational know how that goes unexploited and unimproved, simply because there are no active means of accessing it and sharing it, much less improving it and exploiting it in a systematic manner.

As a military leader commanding peacekeeping forces, I found that the best information was often resident right within my unit. I had only to ask my troops what they had seen in their patrols and by talking with the local populace and I could generate enormous quantities of grassroots intelligence. That’s why military commanders prize ground truth so much.

There is a lot of knowledge and information resident in the minds of employees and managers in a company. There are salespeople visiting customers and prospects. Others are constantly interacting with suppliers, distributors, retailers, and even competitors. There is a lot of knowledge that goes unexploited simply because company leaders are unaware of everything that is known within their respective organizations.

Are there things you or your organization/team may know, but that you are not already aware of? What can you do to find out, or to promote this kind of sharing and awareness?

© 2017 Alcera Consulting Inc. This article may be used for non-commercial use with proper attribution.

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