Discovering an Unknown Known – and ordering the vegetable tempura

Tendon Udon SetPosted by Ray Poynter, 22 July 2019


In my “Finding the story in the data” workshops, I use a knowledge framework that comprises four components

  • Known Knowns, the things we check before the research starts and which we validate where necessary.
  • Known Unknowns, which are often the prime focus of the research, and is something that market researchers are generally good at.
  • Unknown Unknowns, I try to ensure that I always look for them – because they are always there.
  • Unknown Knowns, things that were known, but perhaps not in a way that was accessible.

Knowns and UnknownsThese four are outlined in a graphic that I use in the workshops.

In this post, I want to focus on the Unknown Knowns with a simple example from everyday life. When I am in Tokyo, one of my favourite meals is a tendon/udon set (tempura on a bowl of rice, with udon and usually miso). Before last week, I tended to order a mixed seafood/vegetable tempura mix (as do most people it seems). However, it turns out I prefer a vegetable mix, and it also transpires that this was a ‘Known Known’ that I did not recognise.

The trigger for realising this ‘Unknown Known’ was eating a meal with a friend who ordered the vegetable mix. I looked at my bowl of tempura and was pleased with it. But then I looked at her bowl and realised that I slightly preferred hers.

So, being a nerd, I thought about the data:

  • A typical bowl for a small meal will have four or five items.
  • My favourite five items are Okra, Pumpkin, Mushroom, Sweet Potato and Carrot (with things like lotus root coming close behind).
  • The vegetable option is widely available.

So, I prefer the vegetable option and I sort of knew it. However, I had not connected the things I already knew. This is exactly like the debrief situation where the client says “But we already knew that!”, to which we need to point out “But you didn’t know you knew it until we unlocked it for you.

Like all good research stories, this one ended with action. Tonight, I went to a local Tendon place, ordered the vegetable tempura (in the picture at the top of the page) and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Want to attend one of my Find the Story in the Data courses?
Check out the list below:

  • Tokyo, Japan, 25 July, hosted by the JMRA (sold out, but you could ask about cancellations). Click here
  • Auckland, New Zealand, 15 August, hosted by RANZ, Click here
  • San Diego, USA, 23 September, hosted by Sawtooth Software, Click here
  • London, UK, 2 October, hosted by MRS, Click here
  • Amsterdam, Netherlands, 24 October, hosted by MOA, Link to follow

2 thoughts on “Discovering an Unknown Known – and ordering the vegetable tempura

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *