Embracing Your Ignorance


“Your ignorance is growing faster than your knowledge.” — Jack Uldrich

Wow. Okay. The truth of that statement makes it no less humbling — at least for those of us who wear the hat of leader, and to whom people turn to for answers. I had the chance to hear Mr. Uldrich, a futurist and author of Business as Unusual, where he challenged all of us to question what we “know” to be true. Different perspectives, combining variables in new and unique ways, and advances in knowledge and technology can quickly make our knowledge outdated, irrelevant, or both.

So . . . if your ignorance is growing faster than your knowledge, and you need to reconsider what you have experienced to be true, where does that leave you as a leader charged with guiding your organization forward? Questions. It leaves you with questions. And that’s not a bad thing, because questions lead you to answers.

The logic of that notwithstanding, it takes a confident leader to be curious . . . to ask, and explore, and stretch your thinking, perhaps based on an insight from someone far less experienced than you or your senior team. Having experience with what has worked may actually make it harder to imagine what could be . . . so be careful about discounting what may initially seem like a crazy idea just because it has little to no resemblance to how you have done things in the past. How many things that we would written off as unrealistic six months ago now seem like a practical solution to the challenges before us?

So how do you embrace your ignorance while still managing to lead? For starters, be a role model of the importance of continuous learning by:

•  Exploring a totally different field, either by reading, talking to someone, watching YouTube, etc. What trends are at the forefront in that industry? What if you overlaid those same trends on your industry?

•  Talking to a new hire, who is younger and less experienced that you. Ask them what they think the next be disrupter will be to your organization or industry, and why. Resist the urge to share your thoughts. Speak up only to seek a greater understanding of their perspective.

•  Running out the impact of the most “far-fetched” trends, even if you think they are unlikely . . . If “this” happened today, how would we respond? (and “it won’t happen” is not an acceptable answer!)

Effective leadership requires curiosity, and a recognition that there is always more to learn. Embrace your ignorance  . . . it’s the first step in expanding your knowledge.

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