Are you wondering what the hell is UNK UNKs? It is a short form for unknown-unknowns. In other words these are the blindspots we deal with. Things we don't know, we don't know are UNK-UNKs.

Every innovator knows that "It is what they don't know can kill them".

It is never about new ideas. It is not even about asking the customers. It is always about discovering the blind spots both creators and consumers deal with everyday.

The simple framework below shows a framework to look at knowns and unknowns.  If you notice keenly for all other boxes there is a method to figure out but when it comes to unk-unks there is only discovery.

The empathy needed to work with unk-unks that customers have and creators have is mind blowingly high. They both have no idea about their blind spots and both are unable to articulate their unknown-unknowns. The possibilities and breakthroughs are hidden in this gold mine. This is the space where opportunities that are unmet and unarticulated are discovered. This is why reserchers should go beyond being human and need to stay unbiased (though it is the hardest thing to do).

As a researcher my life revolves around the UNK-UNKs of my product teams and their customers. My job is to not allow these things to kill us. Based on my experience of conducting more than 1000+ studies here are a few NOT TO DO things when you are dealing with UNK-UNKs. Knowing these pitfalls may save you ton of time, energy and resource.

  1. I often see that less operationally intensive research method (surveys) is picked to understand customer demand. Bad Idea. Do not send a survey to assess customer demand. Pointed and focused questions help only to validate and prove.

    What we want to do is not to validate but to discover if the idea is exciting customers. In that case, survey is a bad choice. Stay away from surveys if you want to know about unk-unks.
  2. Competitor analysis is another popular research method that gets picked for understanding customer demand. It is a bad idea. What you see as a product is a sum of many pivots, many mistakes, painful resets and many features now under study. It is a journey. It is not what is described in the data sheet or crafted as pixels in the interface. Unk-Unks will surely be missed in this route.
  3. One study has never helped any innovator understand the customer demand. You may have a wrong product for a wrong customer at a wrong price. Working with these parameters is a discovery and not a decision. Continuous discovery is a must if you want to handle unk-unks gracefully.
  4. A structured discussion guide in a formative study is a bad idea. It happens 90% of the time though.

    A focused set of questions makes the interviewer and the customer miss the discussions around what is not asked. The unk-unks get missed in this style.
  5. Hear me out! Do not be super enthusiastic moderator in the interview. It is hard for customers to disagree on a face that is so pumped, energetic and enthusiatic. A neutral face really works.
  6. Do not ask leading questions or ice-cream questions. This will derail the conversation with the customer into a shallow one. Discovery happens only when the depth is established.
  7. Set your mindset to seeking fitment. There is no right idea and there is no right customer. It is all about the fitment of the idea in the customer's life.
  8. Rave reviews and customer thumbs-up in a research study does not mean your idea works fully. Keep the discovery hat on so that the offering can be developed further and continuously.
  9. One study will never give a go, no-go decision. Continuous research is a must when you are forming & shaping an idea into something more meaningful.
  10. Reflection helps you discover the unk-unks. You can only know the blindspots by connecting dots backwards. You will never know it when you are collecting dots forward. So include reflection as a part of the research process.

To avoid all the above pitfalls do this one thing: Fall in love with the problem. Not with the customer. Not with the organization. Not with the idea. Not even with a competitor's idea.

Just fall in love with the problem. Unk-Unks will show itself up in the process ❣

🥂 to discovery!

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