The above diagram is a landscape of the three types of problems that exist— those with known/knowns, unknown/knowns and unknown/unknowns. As you can see, innovation projects lie in the unknown unknowns. These unknown unknowns are also our blindspots. Design thinking gives us a creative way to stare them in the eye

The 3 Different Types of Problems

Let’s take another look. The top level of this diagram can be represented by the circle in the diagram below. The circle is everything in the world that is possible for your business. But you only know a small slice– that’s the known/known and the known/unknowns. What you know you know and what you know you don’t know constitute your view. You know them both. MBA’s are adept at tackling these known/unknown business challenges, but a”search, sort, and solve” approach leaves a large percentage of uncharted territory. It’s the type of space that draws entrepreneurs and innovators and it’s a risky space. It’s also a space with a lot of room for possibility. How do you manage risk and create a possibility that is outside of your view? 

Blindspots are the sweet spots for innovation. Take on a larger point of view by engaging in conversations with your customers. Understanding their view will make way for new ideas that lead to new results. 

How to Spot Unknown Unknowns

An opportunity to use design thinking to solve growth problems can be easily missed, if your tendency is to apply traditional analytical techniques. When you confront an opportunity that carries a high level of risk, it could be helpful to engage a design thinking and lean innovation approach. For example, if a company that is traditionally focused on products wants to explore services, they have a ton of unknown unknowns – How will customers receive a service from us? How would we design business models for services? How are we going to deliver a service at scale? These types of questions require a different approach.

Solving Unknown Unknowns

As a design researcher, inquiry into the unknown unknowns is an essential part of my work. While secondary research and data may drive the direction of an innovation project, the combination of ethnographic design research (qualitative) AND data (quantitative) grounds us by giving us a larger slice of this pie. How? Well, design research allows us to understand our customer’s reality (or view) of the problem. This shift in perspective is a powerful tool! All of a sudden, the unknown unknowns start to shrink as our view expands.

But design researchers have a view, too. During a project, I constantly need to check my own view to manage innovation. Design thinking and entrepreneurial methods give me a way to systematically test my business and user assumptions and clearly understand the interactions between the view of the client, vendors, and customer. With an integrated business and design mindset, blindspots can be transformed into sweet spots for innovation.

At Peer Insight, we tackle these types of problems, and help our clients navigate the discomfort of abandoning tried and true analytical techniques for a more creative problem-solving approach. Have a growth problem that might require a different approach? Drop us a line at

We help companies explore their unknown unknowns to identify opportunities for breakthrough growth. Learn more here!

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