Blind Spots: You don’t know what you don’t know

A colleague sent me the presentation slides for the assignment that he had been working on. There was a logical leap in the arguments as it was based on a big implicit assumption. The ability to pick up this assumption was a function of experience. We quickly got into a discussion to understand the thought process that builds the argument. He was totally unaware that he had made that assumption. How do we then deal with the things that we don’t know that we don’t know i.e. our blind spots?

A blind spot is a habit of a way of behaving or thinking that you are not aware of. There are so many other similar situations that I can think of where I was not aware of my own blind spots. The days when I thought I had a bullet proof plan, only to have the project being blown out of the waters by a black swan event that I never even anticipated. The days after I struggled a few days with a complex technical set up only for a friend (a technical expert) to tell me about this simple solution which I didn’t even know how to Google for. How we could deal with things that we don’t know? Do we have to fall down to learn that lesson? Or is there another way for us to learn that lesson without falling down?

Knowledge Engagement Matrix

The “Knowledge Engagement Matrix” is a 2 x 2 matrix of ‘whether you know’ vs ‘what you know’. Though it is commonly known as a “Knowledge Engagement Matrix”, the “Knowledge” here can also be extended to competency in skills and behaviors.

MoneyBullandThinkingBear - Knowledge Engagement Matrix


A Practitioner knows what he knows. He is aware of his competency and has a reasonable mastery of the area. The Practitioner risks being complacent. He needs to remain conscientious.


A Recipient knows that he doesn’t know. He is aware of the gaps in his skills or knowledge. This awareness gives him the opportunity to learn and acquire the knowledge to become a Practitioner. The risk is he didn’t manage to master the skill until it was actually needed. i.e. A person knows he doesn’t know how to swim. If he falls of the boat, it would be too late for him to learn the skill then. Thus, it is good to pick up important skills as early as possible. Otherwise, a recipient should try to not put himself into a situation where he is required to demonstrate the skills that he know he doesn’t have.


A donor doesn’t know that he knows. Unaware of his competency in an area, he bears the risk of that he does not know to access that knowledge. He could be unaware because he has never been asked the question or given the problem before to think about it. A donor should try to gain more awareness and could be nudged into accessing the knowledge with the right contextual questions.


This is the quadrant that we are interest in for this post. An explorer also has a blind spot as he doesn’t know that he doesn’t know. He bears a lot of risk, as he is not able to take mitigation actions against something that he does know. We would discuss how could an ‘Explorer’ transit into a ‘Recipient’ or a ‘Donor’ below.

What you can do

MoneyBullandThinkingBear - Knowledge Engagement Matrix

As an Explorer and Donor: Gaining more awareness

To get visibility of his blind spots, a ‘Donor’ and ‘Explorer’ should try to gain more awareness to become a ‘Practitioner’ and a Recipient’ respectively.

  • Hire a coach or get a mentors. The ‘Donor’ could get a nudge from a ‘Practitioner’ in the form of coaching. Even the wisest person is not able to perfectly cover his blind spots.
  • Ask your colleagues or have a 360 review from the people around you helps to cover your blind spots.
  • Increase your exposure to new stuff by participate in more activities and increase your social network.
  • Technology could potentially cover our blind spots. Artificial Intelligence and Deep Learning Technology might be able to come up with solutions better than the human? We have already seen this when Deep Blue beat Garry Kasparov 4-2 in 1996, and again during a rematch in 1997. Not only in the aspect of coming up with better solutions, they can even at some point come up with better questions. The questions that even human don’t know to ask, because we are not aware of it.
As a Recipient: Acquire more knowledge

A ‘Recipient’ should try to acquire more knowledge to become a ‘Practitioner’. I am not sure if an ‘Explorer’ could actively take action to acquire knowledge to become a ‘Donor’, so an Explorer first step is possibly to gain awareness of the things he doesn’t know.

  • A more direct approach would be to ask a Practitioner
  • A more indirect approach would be to Google for key word. As a programmer, I learned ‘Google is your best friend’ when it comes to finding information. It’s true.
As a Practitioner:
  • Even a practitioner in one area would have some blind spots in other areas. He should continue to pursue knowledge and gain awareness in the areas where you are still a ‘Recipient’, ‘Donor’ or ‘Explorer’.

MoneyBullandThinkingBear - Knowledge Engagement Matrix

Note: Knowledge Engagement Matrix vs. Johari Window

The “Knowledge Engagement Matrix” is a 2 x 2 matrix of ‘whether you know’ vs ‘what you know’. It is not to be mistaken as it’s more famous cousin – the Johari Window. The Johari Window is a 2 x 2 matrix of ‘whether you know’ vs. ‘whether other people know’. Johari Window was first create to help others better understand their relationship with themselves and with others. It was first applied in characteristic or personality traits. It goes through an exercise where the subject and his peers identify the traits or personality of the subject based on their perception. Johari window focuses on self and others’ perception; and does not talk about the accuracy of that perception i.e. whether you actually know the knowledge or not.

So even though there is a common axis ‘whether you know’, we need to be careful to not attempt to put the 2 matrices together to form a 2 x 2 x 2 window of ‘whether you know’ vs. ‘what you know’ vs. ‘whether people know’. In the first place, the intent of 2 x 2 matrix was to keep things. Johari window discusses whether you and other perceives yourself as ‘Practitioner’ or ‘Recipient’. So we are careful not to bring Johari Window into this discussion.

MoneyBullandThinkingBear - Knowledge Engagement Matrix

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