May 08

It’s at the core of every innovative advance; that magical moment that occurs when your sphere of awareness extends to encompass new territory – the stuff “you didn’t know that you didn’t know.” This typically happens when people from different cultural, disciplinary or age groups traverse one of these boundaries and cross-pollinate an idea that had meaning in one context into a new one. So what do I mean by, “don’t know what you don’t know?” It’s important because this is where the magic of innovation occurs. Everyone loves a good pie chart, here’s one:


Let’s assume for a minute that we can represent the theoretical body of all knowledge in existence as a pie. Sorry to burst your bubble but you know about one sliver’s-worth of stuff – all the things you can do yourself (speak English, use a computer, read a blog). You’re aware of a larger chunk that you cannot currently do but nonetheless you still know exists (how to bull fight, speak swahili, knit a sweater). These two taken together constitute your awareness of the world. But you remain oblivious to the vast majority of this pie (pacman’s body in this picture). It exists regardless of your awareness and from time to time knowledge from pacman is absorbed into your world either through first-hand experience or simply by becoming aware of what you don’t know. What’s an example of knowledge from this mysterious pacman space? For instance, until my friend Bryce told me, I never knew the spinning hard-boiled egg trick. You can tell the difference between a hard-boiled egg and an uncooked egg because the uncooked egg won’t readily spin (presumably because the inertia of its liquid center and the tendency to resist a change in motion).

If the real advancements occur when you are able to access that pacman space and discover insights that let you innovate, how can we willfully tap into that knowledge? I know of two ways and one of them we’re facilitating tonight in Scottsdale.

Stone Soup Seminar

Our friend Ed describes this concept as “not being aware of the water in your own fish tank” and the epiphany that occurs when you are able to see the water in other people’s tanks and make inferences about your own situation. If you’re local in Phoenix tonight, come out to the first ever “Stone Soup Seminar.” The design of the event is to distill the suggestions of the crowd to solve business and technical challenges of the first twenty people that RSVP. The benefit is that as an RSVP’r, not only do you get actionable suggestions to solving your problem, you get the additional perspective of the fish tanks around you and the chance to reach into pacman space and learn about the stuff you didn’t know you didn’t know.

Innovation Games

I completed my certification this weekend in California to be able to facilitate the Innovation Games ® as collaborative exercises to unearth insights into customer needs. It’s very difficult to ask a customer what he/she wants in a new product and get a meaningful result- had Apple explicitly asked people what they wanted in a music player it’s unlikely we would have arrived at the iPod and yet it’s a ridiculously popular product. Innovation Games are one way to build the bridge of understanding starting on the customer side of the river and working your way backwards. If we get through every one’s issues and still have time left over, we’ll experiment with some of the Innovation Games. I had the opportunity to do a podcast with the author of the Innovation Games book, Luke Hohmann- you can listen to his interview here.

I know we’re competing with the Sun’s Playoff game tonight but the game doesn’t start until 7:30pm and the first quarter of basketball is always boring anyways. Details on the Stone Soup Seminar are here and we look forward to learning the stuff we didn’t know we didn’t know from you all.

11 Responses to “How to tap the knowledge you don’t know you don’t know”

  1. angie jantz says:

    I will tell you one thing I didn’t know I didn’t know, I didn’t know pac-man liked watermelon.

    Sorry I don’t have anything really pertinent to say, however I wanted to say that as a “first time commenter long time reader” I enjoy you blog. I am sure we met at a Refresh a year ago, however I have since moved to Salt Lake City. Keep it up!

  2. Sam says:

    Great idea for tapping into DKDK space!

  3. Ben Atkin says:

    Thanks for putting on this event. I learned a lot, and had a great time!

  4. sean says:

    @angie – everybody knows Pacman loves watermelon, c’mon ;-) I do remember you from Refresh. I checked your site btw- big McGuyver fan myself and the only TV show I ever watch anymore is Lost- so props.

    @Ben- glad you enjoyed it. I just posted the pics of everyone’s easle sheets->

    Hopefully it was useful enough that people will talk and we can draw twice as many people for the next one. Tell your friends!

  5. TOMAS says:

    Hey Sean, the Stone Soup Seminar sounds really interesting. I’m just catching up on my feeds so I totally missed the first meeting, but I’ve signed up to be notified for the next meeting and look forward to checking it out – I’ll also let my buddies know about it.

  6. […] I recently wrote a piece called “How to tap the knowledge you don’t know you don’t know“- it covers this very scenario. There is a rift in translating customer needs into product features. The bridge-building that occurs in order to understand the desired feature set is typically done by the product development team soliciting feature requests from users. Schachter’s advice is to instead seek the root cause behind the features they’re requesting. For instance, in our realm, users of traditional installable desktop software typically aren’t aware of the capability to ship a mini virtual computer that is fully preconfigured and self-contained- they don’t know what they don’t know about virtual appliances and therefore the features they request are related to usability failings with their current, known offering. It’s up to product development team to cross that divide and help “build the bridge of understanding” from the customer end by understanding their needs and requirements rather than seeking implementation-level feedback. […]

  7. […] “It’s good to be market-driven in the sense that you should know what’s going on, but you can’t let your customers drive your product development. You need to be able to innovate on behalf of your customers, but they often don’t know what they want.” We get pulled in various directions by requests in our support forums on JumpBox but we always view the suggestions against the backdrop of our vision for bringing Open Source apps within reach of the non-technical user. I recently wrote about this notion of “how do customers express their needs when they don’t even know themselves what they want?” Our Stone Soup Seminars and ability to deliver Innovation Games ® help us to get at this very problem. […]

  8. TOMAS says:

    Hey Sean, the Stone Soup Seminar sounds really interesting. I'm just catching up on my feeds so I totally missed the first meeting, but I've signed up to be notified for the next meeting and look forward to checking it out – I'll also let my buddies know about it.

  9. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Sunghee Park. Sunghee Park said: How to tap the knowledge you don’t know you don’t know via @AddToAny […]

  10. […] up a world of possibility that sends your mind reeling with ideas. For me it’s been a “Don’t know what you don’t know” advancement – the equivalent of taking off a pair of dirty sunglasses you didn’t […]

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