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  • Writer's pictureLucy Hatt

Visualising "Knowledge is always partial and often ambiguous"

Vikas Kapil, Dave Jarman and I have been working on a series of animations to illustrate the threshold concepts of entrepreneurial thinking. This is the seventh and last threshold concept in our collection. You can read about the whole set at

This is how we're envisaging "Knowledge is always partial and often ambiguous"

To explain this threshold concept, we're using the principle of "generalisation", which is an aspect of Variation Theory*, where we learn about something by experiencing varied appearances of it.

People who think entrepreneurially accept that they often don’t have all the data they would like to make decisions, and often the data they do have is ambiguous. The picture above is not actually moving, but it seems to. Even when we do have information, we cannot be certain that we are interpreting it in the same way as other people. And we sometimes can't trust our own interpretation of information either.

But people who think entrepreneurially still act even if the picture is not clear or complete – and the process of taking action leads to new situations, new learning, and ultimately new opportunities.

To illustrate the concept of “Knowledge is always partial and often ambiguous” imagine two people faced with the task of completing a dot-to-dot picture with no numbers. One person struggles with the missing information and gives up. The other person keeps trying and draws something unexpected and exciting.

Multiple realities are possible and knowledge is subjective and a matter of interpretation and perception. For example, different people see different things at different times in the same image.

Imagine another scenario where two people are faced with a mysterious box which looks like a kit to build something. One person doesn’t know where to start - they don’t know what they are meant to be building, there are no instructions, and they worry that they might make a mistake. But the other person regards the ambiguity and the risk of failure as an opportunity to break new ground, so they create something great without worrying if it’s the “right thing”, or what was intended.

Unpredictable outcomes and insights are an integral part of taking action. Any action or inaction involves a degree of risk and a degree of opportunity. The point is to generate information quickly and often, so it can be learnt from and ideally before others do so, in a manner that creates some advantage.

*See: Marton, F., Runesson, U., & Tsui, A. B. M. (2004). The space of learning. In F. Marton, A. B. M. Tsui, P. P. M. Chik, P. Y. Ko, & M. L. Lo (Eds.), Classroom discourse and the space of learning. Mahwah, NJ: Laurence Erlbaum.

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