For one reason or another I have been scouring the web for research projects about the UK exhibition market and despite regionalising my search terms the overwhelming results were US based.

Many UK organisers, venues and contractors will have their own valuable research projects which are laser-focused on their particular activities and interests. That’s perfectly understandable and good but the industry-wide projects are seriously absent.

Not exactly simultaneously to this I recently watched a documentary about Donald Rumsfeld which covered his infamous statement regarding weapons of mass destruction:

Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, 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. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.

I’ve always loved this quote, the jury, however, is out on Rumsfeld as a politician and a person – even after watching the documentary for an hour and a half!

For me the quote is relatively simplistic and clear but for those with a headache there are three variables:

  • Known Knowns
  • Known Unknowns
  • Unknown Unknowns

If you apply those variables to the UK exhibition industry you can clearly see that the industry wide research falls primarily into the last two categories – and that’s a lot of unknowns.

The more we know as an industry the easier it is to provide insight and analysis and commentary.

And without it, we struggle.

The great thing about the quote, and one that Rumsfeld admits, is that he missed one variable:

  • Unknown Knowns

Psychoanalytic philosopher Slavoj Žižek claims that this category is one where we ‘intentionally refuse to acknowledge that we know’ i.e. we put our heads in the sand.

We all know that we lack research in this industry but I think it’s about time we acknowledge it collectively and work towards making it a known known.

Headache? Yep me too.

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