Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s “unknown unknowns” response to a question posed to him at a news briefing on Feb. 12, 2002, led to some ridicule and fodder for late-night talk shows. It did sound funny at the time: “some things we don’t know we don’t know.” What kind of sense did that make?
Turns out, this analysis technique — sometimes called the Johari window — has been commonly used by NASA, national security and intelligence professionals, and often in project management and strategic planning circles. Simply put, there are things we know (known knowns), things we do not know (known unknowns), things we cannot know (unknown unknowns), and a fourth, which Rumsfeld failed to mention, things we intentionally refuse to acknowledge that we know (unknown knowns). Sound like gobbledygook?
I was reminded of the Rumsfeld incident in relation to the coronavirus. So many are posing the question, “What will the new normal be like?” or commenting that some things we have adapted to will most likely remain.
For a certainty, we will be more cognizant of hygiene: washing hands, sneezing into the elbow, sanitizing hands, and surfaces. Not so certain is when we will no longer hear the admonition to wear a mask in public situations. No doubt the use of online services will continue. However, maybe we have learned to live with less and to be more responsible, sustainable consumers.
Will the ubiquitous greeting of a handshake be gone forever? The original purpose of it is. The history of the handshake dates back to Greece in the fifth century BC where it was a symbol of peace by showing that neither person was carrying a weapon.
Which companies and services will survive and which ones won’t is predictable, but not known for sure. Many retail stores have already closed their doors for good. Big-name companies such as J.C. Penney and J. Crew have declared bankruptcy while others have retooled to meet the new challenges.
We have seen this take place here in the valley. Twisp manufacturer eqpd converted its bag manufacturing business into a mask manufacturing business and was able to keep its staff working. The Mazama Store expanded the grocery and sundries area by removing the inside seating area. (Frankly, we hope the day comes when the gathering spot returns; such a great vibe for socializing.) Some changes have come with no choice while others are innovative in order to stay viable.
With a new fear of an easily transferrable, but unseen enemy, what the future holds for large athletic events, traveling, and life and work in big cities remains to be seen. Our valley may well see an increase of residents fleeing the urban areas, especially as telecommuting has become the norm. For a certainty, we will return to The Barnyard Cinema while big-city movie theaters may be shuttered. It does not seem like anybody is eager to be in a packed sports stadium or on a cruise ship right now.
There are many unknown unknowns that weigh heavily on everyone. We do not know what will happen to the economy. We do not know when, or if, an effective vaccine will be available or, even more important, a cure for the coronavirus. Only time will tell.
So, for now, we face each day with what we know for the day, breathe in the fresh Methow air, and carry on. Don’t forget to take a moment to stop and smell the roses!