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The Four Kinds of Knowledge

Estimated reading time: 2 mins

Did you know there are four kinds of knowledge?

There are four kinds of knowledge. But not many people know that. But here’s the thing – understanding what the four kinds of knowledge are, and their implications, is a kick-ass tool for making decisions, diffusing arguments and getting through life…

1) You Know What You Know

This kind of knowledge is the most obvious. You know your name. You know that you know your name. Being consciously knowledgeable about something means that we’re confident to apply that knowledge. At work, we’re known as experts when we know we know something. Other people who don’t know it (and know they don’t know it – see below) come to us because we can apply that knowledge with authority.

2) You Know What You Don’t Know

I don’t know the square root of the radius of the earth in inches. Do you? I know I don’t know that, as (probably) do you. Now if I ever needed to know that number, I could go and find out. In less than five minutes I expect. So in our jobs, there’s stuff we know we don’t know. Work, research, listening, etc. to do. It’s important to be clear about our knowledge of what we don’t know. When we know we don’t know something, we then have the choice to learn it.

Some people try to ‘wing it’ – by pretending they know something they don’t. Bad decisions can be made this way. There’s nothing wrong with not knowing something. We can’t all know everything!

3) You Don’t Know What You Know

We’re bombarded with information in our lives. A lot of that information turns to knowledge, and most of that is knowledge we don’t know we have. We are information sponges. How often have you answered a question correctly when you didn’t think you knew the answer beforehand?

We often need our memories to be jogged, somehow, to know something that is hidden away in the depths of our memories. Until that happens, we’re left with an inkling.

There is a big difference between this kind of knowledge and the preceding one. Here, we might make a decision despite a tangible lack of knowledge (call it a hunch), but we won’t be making it based on deceit.

4) You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

This kind of knowledge is most definitely the widest spread. This is ignorance. This is naïvity. We’ve all had it, and still do – every single one of us. Think of the journey that children go through as they learn about the world around us. My 5-year old son asked me what an iceberg was last week. He knew he didn’t know this knowledge, which is why he asked. A month ago, he didn’t know he didn’t know this. In work, this happens all the time. You might step on somebody’s toes because you didn’t know what you did was their job. You might also sell a car at a discount-rate no longer offered, because you didn’t know it wasn’t being offered any more.

This is a fact of life. We shouldn’t blame, chastise, punish or penalize people if they do something out of ignorance, and nor should we expect it. But this is why we must have published policies. And disclaimers. And warning signs. And education. Because they attempt to turn our ignorance into knowledge we know we don’t know!

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About the author /


Simon is a creative and passionate business leader dedicated to having fun in the pursuit of high performance and personal development. He is co-founder of Applied Change, a Business Change consultancy based in the UK. Simon is also an Ambassador for Gloucestershire business. Simon is an Associate Member of the Chartered Institute of Professional Development.

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