The value of ignorance
Everyone is ignorant of many things and knowledgeable about very few. Ignorance has nothing to do with intelligence and everything to do with not knowing. Intelligent people can be ignorant. You may be knowledgeable about lagging economic indicators and at the same time ignorant of how to change the oil in your car.
People frequently complain about the ignorance of others. Computer technicians complain about the ignorance of users. Managers complain about the lack of knowledge in the workforce. Leaders complain that people don’t understand the pressures they feel.
Anyone one who is good at something deals with ignorant people. If you aren’t dealing with people who don’t know, you don’t know much.
Rather than complaining about the ignorance of customers, employees, clients, colleagues, or the world in general, be thankful. Be thankful you can add value to others.
The value of ignorance is it gives value to your knowledge.
Would you like to find new opportunities? Look for ignorance. Would you like to leverage your knowledge for the good of others? Solve ignorance.
More than thankful
Your knowledge should make you humble because you know what it’s like to deal with ignorant people. Frequently, you don’t know. Therefore, it’s likely that others are frustrated by your ignorance.
Note: I realize this post borders on promoting ignorance. All I’m doing is exalting the value of ignorance to highlight a point.
Are you frustrated with the ignorance of others?
Do your frustrations point to opportunities?
So nice to see this statement from you as I begin my Friday:
“The value of ignorance is it gives value to your knowledge.” Definitely true and a quotable quote. You should put this out on Twitter with a “BeOriginal” tag.
I like your post very much today because it underscores my belief that people who scoff at others’ ignorance are themselves ignorant of how learning occurs. We learn from knowledge outside of our sphere. The vehicle can be technology, books, experiential, and (*drum roll please) — others!
The only truly frustrating situation with team members is when they do not *want to learn or someone who thinks they know it all and doesn’t need to learn.
In my team building and customer service training/coaching, one clear sign of trouble is those who won’t share their knowledge and experience to help others. One clear sign of greatness is the exact opposite.
Bravo and have a great weekend.
Working in the consulting and coaching world ignorance can be frustrating. It doesn’t take me long to remember, however, exactly what you say, Dan. I wouldn’t have work without a client’s ignorance. Part of what makes life such an incredible journey is the opportunity to share in “enlightening” – both receiving and giving. It is an opportunity for some rich dialog. I hope I never get over being ignorant nor finding others who I can help increase/change their thinking and doing as a result of transferring knowledge.
Great post. The older I get the more I recognize that I can’t and won’t know it all. By recognizing where I am ignorant, it gives me a an opportunity to partner more with others who know more about what I do not and to learn from them. Hopefully I too can add value to the relationship by sharing something of value in another area with them in return.
The dangerous form of ignorance is when it is mixed with intolerance. This I&I cocktail can be toxic to our lives, our communities and our businesses. When you find people the have had too many I&I’s to drink – it is best to stay clear.
Great addition and reminder — the danger of the Ignorance & Intolerance (I&I) cocktail.
So many should think a bit and re-ignite their lives with learning.
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” ~Mark Twain
… and learning is a form of travel!
I used to be extremely ignorant of social networking (“it’s easy, has no value”) and many, many other areas that I’m just learning about now. It’s cool to learn how little I know. Like you said, it gives an understanding that others are likely to be frustrated by my ignorance. Humbling, indeed.
YES! We’re all ignorant in many areas. In some areas it’s OK to stay ignorant. However, in others it’s very painful to stay ignorant.
In addition to your point, Dan, of looking for ignorance because that’s where you can add the most value – I would like to add 2 other factors:
One is acknowledgment of the ignorance. Even the perfect solution to the unacknowledged problem has no value. So find people who know they are ignorant.
The other is where ignorance is painful. I know I’m ignorant in many areas that I don’t really care about, so I’m willing to live with it without doing anything. However, in other areas ignorance is costing me time, money, and opportunities. I want to fix my ignorance as quickly as possible here – that’s where my attention and my money go. Those areas represent a huge opportunity for people who are brilliant there.
If you seek people who are ignorant, know they’re ignorant, and are experiencing pain as a result – you’ll find people who are looking for solutions. If you have those solutions your value is confirmed, life becomes more fun, and you connect with great people. Those sound like part of a great foundation for success.
Thanks again, Dan, for getting me thinking.
Even in the subjects that I believe and claim to be an expert, I am ignorant.
Good post Dan!
The real challenge regarding “the ignorant” is those who “don’t know that they don’t know”, i.e. pridefully unteachable folks.
Those aren’t the folks who state “I don’t need to know” because their knowledge plate or must-do plate is overflowing, or because they have people to do those things for them, and thus only need to know how to communicate with those “in the know” (as an old sage said, “If you have a dog, why bark?”).
The feared label “know it all” may reveal a role-playing person who is trying to conceal their fear of appearing ignorant in other areas – another form of false pride!
The awareness of personal ignorance is valuable. We learn that alone we have our limitations. Knowing your ignorance also brings awareness that you need others. This also forces us to development others gifts and form teams that cover our leadership ignorance.
The post is enlightening and true. Let’s know our weakness so that strength can be designed.
You are not promoting ignorance, just the awareness of ignorance, which is good in my opinion.
Ignorance brings you to two possible answers: you’re pushed to know more, or you realize what you don’t know isn’t relevant to you.
In both cases, it’s a good chance for self improvement.
The older I get the less my tolerance meter can handle chronic complainers without solutions.
The I&I cocktail can toxically inebriate a culture quickly.
While I ‘know’ my frustrations point to opportunities, I may be so languidly savoring my self-involved frustrations that I don’t care to see the opportunities. We all bathe or shower in that periodically…hopefully only for a short while.
I recall the FISH video where the fish monger caught himself complaining about the ‘ignorant customers’ asking the same questions over and over…then he realized it was his stuff and these people, each, were asking genuine questions and he should be thrilled (and thankful) that they have come to him with his expertise to answer those questions. All a matter of perspective and attitude.
The negative connotations around ‘ignorant’ can be serious and build walls, less so around “I don’t know.” I don’t know is disarming and honest. I would like to work with someone who owns that they don’t know.
So is this a variation on a leadership value of jack of all trades, master of none?
But seriously, this thread does seem to bring together a value on being a part of an ongoing learning environment, warts and all.
When we think we know – We Don’t.
When we think we are good – We are Not.
Your comment reminds me of De Bono’s statement: “Those who think they know, don’t.”
Best to you,
As I have gained more life experience, I have learned to be much more patient with ignorance (the kind that stems from not understanding a subject/task or having enough training) EXCEPT the kind of ignorance that perpetuates hate from one generation to the next.
As to frustrations pointing to opportunities, one very specific and promising project I read about that tries to dispel ignorance of other cultures/traditions is the “Conflict Kitchen” in Pittsburgh: through the simple concept of serving one specific food (and providing discussion opportunities) from a country (Iran for now) that Americans often perceive as “hostile,” the door to understanding is opened at least a hair. I have to think that ignorance is dispelled at the Conflict Kitchen, and in doing so, frustration as well.
Here’s a link with more info: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/37510724/ns/business-consumer_news/
I know this post is geared more towards the ignorance of “others”, and it’s a very good one. But I’d like to add, as some of the other commenters already have, that awareness of one’s own ignorance is also a valuable opportunity. It frees you to look at everything with a high level of curiosity and creativity. For this topic I feel compelled to recommend the book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki.
I tell a joke. And I set it up with the anchor point of a John McEnroe (who lost and said): “That taught me a lesson, but I don’t know what it was.”
What happens is that people “get” the joke, but do not realize that there are more than one answer to it. They think everyone thinks what they think it was about. So, I force them to ask each other and they find some differences. The key learning point, which relates to Dan’s point is,
“It’s dangerous to know THE Answer.”
Managers know the answers to the issues of workplace performance because they have been there and done that and got promoted for their special competence. BUT, when their knowledge actually functions to limit innovation and improvement, their knowledge becomes ignorance.
I have 22 different answers / punchlines to that one joke and have heard many more that I have simply forgotten…
Another quote I use in this same context:
“Don’t just DO something, STAND there.”
This whole issue has many links to themes of engagement, workplace improvement, team building, innovation, leadership, motivation, change and the like. The key is for leaders to ask and for people to own.
“Nobody ever washes a rental car.”
I use Square Wheels illustrations and metaphors to help me make most of my key learning points and generate ownership involvement…
I don’t mind ignorance in the least. What I mind is what I call “A&I Syndrome,” which I first discovered at a nuclear weapons lab, of all frightening places.
It’s understandable, though not great, to be arrogant about something if you know a lot about it. It’s okay to be ignorant about something, so long as you admit it and don’t need to know about it. What drives me up the wall is someone who is both arrogant and ignorant about the same topic.
You know this person: one who argues with a recognized expert in another field about the expert’s field. The teammate who thinks that because they know a lot about software development, they know what software you should be using to write the documentation. The sales person who sets impossible deadlines with the customer and complains when the project manager can’t meet them. The boss who thinks he or she knows more about a person’s work problems than that person does.
Fortunately, I’ve never been on the receiving end of any of these instances. (Did my nose just grow longer?)
Frank Layton, then the coach of the Utah Jazz professional basketball team, had a highly-paid and under-performing player (Jeff Wilkins, supposedly). At a press conference, Layton related the conversational coaching discussion he had with Wilikins:
“Son, what is it with you? Ignorance or apathy?”
“Coach, I don’t know and I don’t care…”
Ignorance / Apathy / Displeasure / Dis-Engagement – You be the ref and you make the call.
Is that like that home-plate umpire in baseball, when challenged about a pitch, said, “It ain’t nothing until I call it!” – (attributed to both Charles Moran and Bill Klem).
Without other people’s ignorance we may not have the opportunity to display our knowledge.