Donald Rumsfeld is unlikely to be remembered as a great Secretary of Defense for the US, however he probably will be remembered for his comments regarding known knowns.  He was being questioned in respect of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and commented: 

“there are known knowns; there are things we know we know.  We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know.  But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know”.   

I often think about this in respect of risk management as there are often things we know we don’t know and sometimes have to plan for the unknown unknowns.  However, sometimes there are things that we think we know we know that actually we don’t.   

This week, I thought I knew what the below symbol meant.  Do you know what it means?  

I thought it meant that the product was recyclable.  It doesn’t.  It means that the manufacturer has made a financial contribution to recycling services. 

The below symbol?  I thought it meant that the product was recyclable.  It doesn’t.  It means that the product is capable of being recycled not that it is actually accepted in recycling systems.     


These simple examples highlight that every day is a school day and it’s not just known unknowns and unknown unknowns that you need to consider.  Symbols are powerful and the messaging behind them are often misinterpreted or misunderstood.  Whilst we are all becoming more aware of the environment and how we can help in our own ways, there needs to be more education around these issues, otherwise we’ll just be causing more harm with our good intentions.   

This week, we’ve signed up to Leicestershire County Council’s push for community litter picking, often called Wombles.  As part of our 1% pledge, we’ll be taking some time to spend in our local communities to do what we can with litter picking.  You’re welcome to join us when we start!  

Thanks for reading and