The Unknown Rule of Personal Growth

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@tarun_kohliTarun Kohli

“There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.” — Donald Rumsfeld

Like many of my American friends, I was livid with Mr. Rumsfeld’s statement about the handling of the Iraq war. It just felt like hand waving and letting go off of his responsibility in planning.

Irrespective of my feelings towards the Iraq war, I came to appreciate the underlying meaning of his quote. And it has helped me become a better professional.

You see, we get promoted for the increase of efficiency in known knowns. Like becoming an even better programmer or a designer over a period of time.

We get accolades and rewards when we plan and solve for known unknowns — things we know that we don’t know. Like, I want to learn the quadrillionth javascript framework that got released this last picosecond. Or our website’s performance is slow when it’s accessed by two people from Antarctica and we need to find an optimization strategy to fix it.

But, the real growth comes from discovering unknown unknowns — things we don’t know we don’t know. Like, Copernicus’s discovery of the Earth revolving around the Sun and everyone saying — “Revolve? Earth!? Around the Sun!? Seriously? Whatcha you smokin’ Cooper!

I believe one of the things that could help you differentiate from your peers and put your career trajectory on fire is building a routine to discover unknown unknowns. And the best part is- it helps you avoid getting inflicted by the Peter Principle.

And to get into that routine of learning, we need to take off our blinders to uncover the blind spots. Be insanely curious. And have our ego take a back seat and admit that there is so much that we don’t know.

And then find structured time in our daily routine to learn more, know more, and become more.

Or even seek the guidance of people who have been there in a given field. There is an infinite wisdom that can be harnessed from their experiences. One could talk to them to understand their patterns of success and then follow that golden trail of knowledge to learn more.

Well, sometimes you would find answers to questions, sometimes you would find new questions to seek answers to.

Just like when we were children. Life was one roller coaster of knowledge when we were young. One joy of discovery led to another. And we never stopped ourselves in seeking surprises.

And then, inevitably, we grew up!

But does it have to be the end?

Certainly, Not!

In his book, Pensées, Blaise Pascal has quoted that there are four kinds of persons- Zeal without knowledge; knowledge without zeal; neither knowledge nor zeal; both zeal and knowledge.

The more zeal and knowledge you gain in life, you’ll move closer to discover unknown unknowns and convert them to known unknowns.

And before you start cursing me in the parseltongue for all the known-unknown banter, I will sign this off.

More power to you.

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