Volume 19 Number 12 - December 2, 2021

My mission is simple. I am devoted to enabling people working in manufacturing to recognize and achieve their potential; through that each of you contributes to an improved quality of life for all you touch. Mission matters. That of your business, and yours personally.

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The Power of Ignorance

One of my strengths is that I know what I know and I know what I don’t know.

Even the things I know I know provide massive learning opportunities for me. For example, my degrees are in Economics, and I know (admittedly, not as well as 50 years ago) what I was taught. My interest remains, but the science has changed dramatically.

In the exhausting category of things I know I don’t know, I either have little interest, place limited priority on learning it, or rely on experts to expose me to key concepts. I feel no need to pretend I know, as the “remove all doubt” tag of the fool is not one I consciously choose to wear.

I have worked with well-educated ceramicists that would argue which factor was most important in improving yield. They each had facts and knowledge but reached different conclusions. Rather than argue in a conference room, real progress required controlled testing. Sometimes knowing what we know can be the problem, as we confuse factual knowledge with conclusions reached with those facts.

I don’t enjoy science and rather than study it, I look to generally accepted experts whose logic seems solid. My accepted experts may not be yours. A long-ago colleague believes climate change is a hoax, part of an effort to turn democracy into socialism. He has scientists he trusts to back him up. I choose to believe that the actions of man impact climate change, but are hardly the only cause. I also choose to believe that mankind should take action to reduce its negative impact on our environment. We are unlikely to save the world, which will exist long after we do not, but can make quality of life better as long as we’re here.

The two of us discussing climate change would not be professional disagreement; it would be emotional disagreement. Neither of us understands climate science, but we each have opinions. I choose not to enter those “debates” because there is no purpose to them. I read about 10% of the linked articles he sends me because, well, I know what I don’t know.

Now look at professional disagreements, arguments, and fervently held opinions within your organization. Every healthy business encourages professional disagreement. No healthy business encourages emotional arguments based on opinion. Good intentions are not the sole possession of one side or the other.

This is where leadership is crucial. How do you differentiate professional disagreement from opinion-based arguing?

One of the best means I’ve seen to stop the latter and promote the former is to have each person state their underlying assumptions. Vociferous disagreement can fade away when assumptions are articulated, verified, and the relevance discussed.

I didn’t need to understand materials science to pull out the key assumptions of my ceramists, and then logically discuss them. We became much more effective solving problems with that skillset in place.

With climate change, our assumptions are not unlike “my dad can beat up your dad.” I believe my scientists and he trusts his. Whether each of us went in search of confirmation bias would be an emotional, not fact-based conversation. We won’t know who is “right” in our lifetimes, so I don’t waste time pursuing that. It will be too late for that to matter.

As you listen to recommendations, disagreement, and general conversation, seek to understand and articulate the underlying assumptions. If those are wrong, the decision/recommendation is unlikely to be good, regardless of the experts knowing what they know.

This is an example of where you, the leader, doesn’t need the answers. You only need to ask good questions.  Ignorance can be a powerful tool.

The Starting Pistol

"It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows."

The Tape

Rebecca Morgan:
"Ignorance is not only bliss; it can be the key to brilliance."

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