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Ignorance as an asset

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In 2003, Harvard Business Review published a short article entitled "Wanted: Chief Ignorance Officer" in which the author described the benefits of ignorance.  Long considered a detriment, this article cataloged all the advantages of ignorance.

People place such an importance on knowledge that they don't realize its limitations.  There's comfort in the phrase, "I've seen something like this before," but it immediately places guard rails around the problem, making it much harder to see innovative solutions.

We see the value of ignorance everywhere - we just call it different things.  How often have you heard (or uttered) the phrase, "I need a set of fresh eyes on this"?  How about, "We need to think outside the box"? 

We were reminded of this article recently when speaking with a business owner about his company's website and underlying codebase.  In response to a question about supporting documentation, he said that there wasn't much because the site had been supported by an internal team for years and they, "Just knew how things worked."

The problem is that people are eventually transient and that's what happened to this company.  Over a short period and for various reasons, the team left. In their wake is a poorly documented codebase that is critical to their business.

Ignorance to the rescue.

Without any significant backstory, a staff member reviewed the codebase and added the missing documentation.  He added a readme file that outlined how the application is set up. Every time he was tripped up or confused, he had to figure things out.  Each time he did, more notes were added at the location where he would have needed them most.  

Once we did that, we did it again but this time with another person unfamiliar with the codebase.  Why another person?  Because ignorance is perishable.  Once you learn something you know it forever.  That's what makes ignorance so important.

We are taught from a young age that ignorance is bad, something you should never admit.  "Fake it until you make it" is advice often given and unfortunately, often followed.  But there is power in "I don't know." If you can muster the courage to start there, you can solve all manner of problems and avoid even more.

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