You may have never noticed, but if you look up in the top left of the screen you’re reading this on, you’ll probably see the title of this blog, Project Epistemology. I really came up with that name because WordPress kind of insists on having a blog name and won’t let you create a blog without it.
So the question you may be asking yourself is ‘Why ‘Project Epistemology?’” That’s being charitable I suppose – as a couple times now, I’ve had people misread that as “Project Episiotomy” – which I am sure would also be an interesting blog, but on a totally different topic. (The conclusion there is that I probably should have included more women in my focus groups.)
Well, I figured it was probably time to take a break from writing about the technical to the more esoteric, and explain away the name of this blog so I can point to this post the next time someone asks me where the name came from.
Epistemology, as you may know already, is the study of knowledge. Specifically, it’s the study of how we know what we know.
As I’ve always seen it, epistemological stages map closely to the four stages of competence:
- Unconscious Incompetence
- Conscious Incompetence
- Conscious Competence
- Unconscious Competence
…often combined with the concept of known unknowns – a popular concept in project and risk management:
- Unknown Unknowns
- Known Unknowns
- Known Knowns
- Unknown Knowns
So how does that tie back to this blog….? The goal of this blog as I see it is to help me identify the limits of my own knowledge. Each time a customer or colleague asks me a question to which the response is “I don’t know” or “I’ll need to check on that,” I make a record of the topic. That list of known unknowns, much like the library of unread books referenced in Taleb’s Black Swans, represents the topics that I know I don’t know, or the topics falling under the rubric of conscious incompetence.
That list may be derived from other sources as well…newsgroups, other blogs, discussions at user group meetings. On a daily basis, users submit all sorts of fascinating questions to the newsgroups, to most of which my response is “I don’t know.”
In essence, I am leveraging customer and user interactions then to identify gaps in my own knowledge. Then, when I have the time, I sit down and review that list of known unknowns, pick a likely one, do the research and generate a blog post. Each blog post then represents a new check mark in the category of the known known or conscious competence category.