Being ignorant does not mean a person is stupid or unintelligent. It simply refers to knowledge not possessed, like a little child who is ignorant of how to drive a car. I myself am ignorant of a great many things, including international macroeconomics, internal medicine, and my way around the kitchen. However, if I were to act in them despite my lack of understanding I would inevitably prove to be imprudent, unwise and sorry! Ignorance breeds foolishness.
Ignorance fosters fear. A Chapman University Survey on American Fears concluded that people with lower levels of education exhibited significantly higher levels of fear in nine different categories (safety, anxieties, victimizations, phobias, etc.). Far from stopping the bad from happening, fear instead prevents good things from materializing. Fear through ignorance discards choice and opportunity, deters risk and innovation, and disallows achievement and success.
Ignorance can stifle learning. Those who believe they already know all they need do not seek further knowledge or refinement. They tend to reject new information, neither realizing its value nor understanding its validity. Those who cannot or will not recognize their own ineptitudes are common enough to even claim a name for their syndrome: the Dunning-Kruger effect.
Unfortunately, as Charles Darwin lamented, “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.” Moreover, while knowledge has been greatly increasing in this Information Age, it cannot keep up with the exponential pace of new information—which means that our collective ignorance is growing faster than our knowledge!
How then can leaders counteract the debilitating effects of ignorance, both within themselves and their organizations?
I love the Johnny Five character in the 1986 comedy Short Circuit. It’s an experimental military robot which is struck by lightning and gains a more humanlike intelligence, and with it, an insatiable appetite for “Input!” That we should be so zapped for mental stimulation!
The world’s greatest leaders are, and have always been, voracious readers, soaking up the most stimulating thinking of their day. CEOs of Fortune 500 companies read an average of four to five books a month. And the best leaders and managers, whatever the sizes of their organizations are, are committed to continual learning.
Mike Myatt, a leadership advisor with N2Growth affirms, “Great leaders are like sponges when it comes to the acquisition of knowledge, the development of new skill sets, and the constant refinement of existing competencies. To the person, the best leaders I know are prolific readers. The most successful people consume written content at a pace that far exceeds that of the average person. My message is a simple one: if you want to improve your station in life, as well as the lives around you, read more.”
I concur. Reading is the key to fending off the inevitable errors of innate ignorance. Even if you are an expert in all aspects of your responsibilities, you cannot remain one if you do not keep abreast of the new developments and trends in your profession. Reading helps you to think better, frame new thoughts, and know more than you ever would have otherwise—rocketing your life’s trajectory like no other propellant.
Start with books, magazines, professional and trade journals and newsletters, subscribe to RSS feeds on newsgroups and forums, and regularly harvest the continually ripening digital fruit in blogs, podcasts, Linkedin and other online sources. Enroll in seminars, conferences and continuing ed courses, and study for professional certifications. Incorporate reading into your daily schedule as the professional priority it is. “No matter how busy you may think you are,” instructed Confucius, “you must find time for reading, or surrender yourself to self-chosen ignorance.” Seek “Input!” every day!
Be a mentor
Of course, your motivation is not merely to accumulate credentials on your C.V., but learning to know, to apply wisdom in practical ways, to better yourself and your organization, and to lead, inspire and motivate those around you.
Share in the uplifting benefits of increased knowledge through an intentional Ignorance-Avoidance Staff Development Plan. Use books to train and mentor your employees in leadership, salesmanship, networking, and management. Incorporate tips on effective communication, prioritizing, and goal-setting into staff meetings. Integrate excerpts from relevant professional and trade articles in reports to your Board of Directors and stockholders. Present books as special awards for recognized achievements; not only will the recipients appreciate the honor and your investment in their ongoing success, they’ll also learn from it.
Deliberate learning is the universal antidote for personal and organizational ignorance. Dose yourself and your associates in it liberally every day.
MasterPoint: Leaders are readers. Leaders are learners. Leaders are mentors.