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Category: Behavioral Economics.

The first line of Aristotle’s Metaphysics starts with a seemingly obvious truth “All men by nature want to know”. According to Aristotle, our desire for knowledge is what defines us as humans and sets our mind apart.

Also, cognitive psychologist George Miller shares his view of humans as informavores, blessed with a desire for consuming information. Information is always thought of as an attractive resource. In the business world, it can be exciting acquiring new information. With it, businesses get to become more agile, smarter and make better decisions. An example is the advantage of leveraging insights from new technological advances and market trends to achieve competitive advantage.

William Gaddis

Stupidity’s the deliberate cultivation of ignorance.

William Gaddis

Information illuminates the path to success and even completely paves it in some cases. However, like all dictums concerning human nature, the human desire for knowledge and information also comes with exceptions and caveats. Surprisingly, psychologists have discovered that people often make the wilful decision to shield themselves from things they don’t really want to know about, or the answer to a question of personal interest – even if the answer has no search cost. This phenomenon is referred to as deliberate ignorance.

How do you know if you are being Deliberately Ignorant?

To see if you are being deliberately ignorant in the ways you are leading your team, consider the following questions:

  • Are there any factual information you are refusing to review that would suggest you need to change some of your processes?
  • Are there industry or professional trends you don’t want to acknowledge or read about just because they would require you to learn new skills or use your time differently?
  • Do you justify your lack of personal or professional development by always saying you are too busy?
  • Do you put off conversations with some people on your team because you know the actions to be taken after conversing with them won’t be comfortable for you or them?

Why do we choose to be Deliberately Ignorant?

The few existing studies available suggest some motives for our deliberate ignorance. Here are some of them:

Reason #1: To avoid potentially bad news

According to Greek mythology, Cassandra, daughter of Apollo was granted the power to foresee the future, but with an added curse that her prophesy would not be believed. With this gift/curse, Cassandra foresaw her murder, the fall of troy and her father’s death.

Going by this, the Cassandra’s regret theory proposes that those who could see into their future tend to suffer twice. One from an anticipatory regret of what is to come and secondly from the tragedy itself.

It’s our nature as humans to prefer the familiar to the unfamiliar, to crave conformity. It helps explain why people avoid news that challenges their most cherished position because it is more comfortable to stay in the dark where they feel more in control. We would rather operate from our ignorance and be precautious than solve problems or take risks.

To buttress this, the Journal Psychological Review published a new study by Gerd Gigerenzer and Rocio Garcia-Retame involving over 2000 participants in Germany and Spain. 85 to 90 percent of the participants would rather not know about upcoming negative events in order to avoid anticipatory regret and forego the suffering that knowing the future may cause. They’d rather be deliberately ignorant than anticipate this ‘double’ suffering.

But here’s the thing: in business these days, unsettling information isn’t only possible, it is guaranteed. Trying to shield yourself from unsettling information or actions by deliberately ignoring them would only lead to you being risk averse.

Case in Point: Phone manufacturer, Nokia, was regarded as one of the leading players in the global mobile technology market. However, the Nokia of today is a much diminished company struggling for relevance with the likes of Apple and Samsung emerging as the dominant smartphone manufacturers.

Nokia’s decline is evident in different ways; within the third quarter in 2012, the company’s net crash fell from €4.2 billion to €3.6 billion. As at January 2013, the company’s employees came down from 61,000 to 45,000 in its mobile and location division. Also, it’s devices division was acquired for $7.2 billion – a very low acquisition cost compared to the estimated $250 billion it was worth early 2000.

So what went wrong?

Mobile industry analysts have noted that Nokia seemed to rest on its existing laurels, choosing to deliberately ignore the trends towards smartphones and playing safe by relying on feature phones that helped it achieve its success.

So what are the other offsides of deliberate ignorance for businesses?

It can limit your success and competitiveness in the global market

Deliberate Ignorance can lead to information avoidance. In today’s constantly-changing world, being open to new information is very important to being successful in the global market. With this, you not only get a more complete picture but you also make smarter decisions that enable professional and personal growth. When you are being deliberately ignorant, the continual influx of updated knowledge needed to thrive and stay competitive won’t be available.

It can lead you to make worse decisions

By deliberately ignoring the existence of a problem, you can’t actively collect information that’d enable you to weigh in all the options to make the best possible decision. Consequently, there is the possibility of circumstances deciding in your place or you being forced to make a decision when It is too late. And it is going to be difficult making good decisions when you are on the rope.

The first step in the risk management process is to acknowledge the reality of risk. Denial is a common tactic that substitutes deliberate ignorance for thoughtful planning.

Charles Tremper

It can lead to permanent unhappiness

It is often said that Ignorance is bliss, but that’s wrong. The thing is, deliberate ignorance doesn’t mean not knowing, rather it is an intentional avoidance of knowledge and information. This act of ignorance is conscious and intentional, meaning that problem – although you pretend it doesn’t exist – still stays active in a part of our mind, creating uncertainty, tension and of course unhappiness.

It can create a snowball effect

Another ominous consequence of deliberate ignorance is that just like a snowball, the ignored problem grows as it rolls down the hands of time, dragging along whatever it finds in its path. Avoiding problems only serve to aggravate them. That meeting you are unwilling to call, will eventually make the situation worse.

It can lead to impossibility in reaching your business goals

When you are being deliberately ignorant sometimes due to the perspective you take, in order to avoid a negative event, you won’t be able to objectively analyze any situation you find yourself, hence making it much more difficult in reaching your business goals. In fact, it increases the chances of deviating from your core objectives and engaging in irrelevant activities.



Reason #2: To Profit strategically from remaining ignorant

Deliberate Ignorance can be used as a strategic device for eschewing responsibilities and avoiding liability. Here people would rather act deliberately ignorant so as to save themselves stress and force others to do the most work.

So how do you motivate your employees not to fall into this trap?

Foster a positive culture in your company

Most people spend a third of their lives working, hence being happy at work will be a vital part of overall well-being. The Department of Economics at the University of Warwick published a study that shows that happy workers are 12% more productive than the average worker.

Job satisfaction will affect the motivation of your employees, so you should work towards creating a positive work environment. This doesn’t just have to do with up to date gadgets or the office design, it also has to do with developing a proper relationship between you and your employees, providing inspiration and creating career growth opportunities.

Reward Employees’ Enthusiasm

Keeping up employees’ motivation is one of the most difficult tasks for managers. Most employees begin a new job full of enthusiasm, however, over time, their motivation wanes. Therefore nurturing a positive relationship with your workers through reward systems is important. .

Sometimes, getting recognition for a job well done is all people want. If your employee feels their efforts either through putting in long hours working on a project or going out of their way to help out a co-worker is appreciated, they’d feel compelled to go out of their way for the company again.

The Aon 2018 Trends in Global Employee Engagement Survey revealed that recognition and reward are the greatest factors in employee engagement. It helped produce employees who are committed, involved, and enthusiastic about their work and workplace

Your recognition program to reward employees’ enthusiasm shouldn’t just be about good pay and bonuses. You could also offer education funding programs like business conferences, industry events or training courses. It could even be as small as recognizing them in a staff e-mail or just noting their efforts in a meeting.

Encourage Workforce Collaboration

Encouraging workforce collaboration allows employees to learn from each other to improve their skills and obtain knowledge, which then boosts productivity and retention rate. Also many recent studies have found that workforce collaboration helps in team building which is key to business success. With it, your company becomes a body that encourages a culture of continuous learning, and I enable team members to enhance their capacity to grow beyond their comfort zone and take your business to new heights.

A good tactic in encouraging workforce collaboration is asking experienced workers to offer assistance to their new colleagues during the first few weeks.

Share Regular Feedback

Employees crave constructive and positive feedback at work, and this feedback helps them cultivate openness in the workplace. In most cases, once employees get their feet wet after training, the frequent feedback from leaders end. After all, if the task assigned to them is being done, what else matters? Right?

But don’t forget that communication is vital in every relationship. Consistent communication between employees and their manager has been connected to higher customer engagement. By sharing regular feedback, you get to increase your employee productivity and accountability.

Feedback could be in the form of annual reviews where improvements to be made are addressed and positive contributions praised.

Tie knowledge sharing to performance review

Knowledge transfer is intrinsic to your business success as it encourages employees to learn from one another. When employees see knowledge sharing as an expected part of their job that is tied to their performance review, they’d be more likely to share. Also, they get to see how valuable it is to learn from others expertise and experience and they become enthusiastic participants themselves.

You can achieve this with a knowledge management solution where expectations are set for employees to contribute at least once a week or share certain documents on a quarterly basis. The KPIs you set for the knowledge sharing should be specific, achievable, measurable and reasonable to all.

Encourage continued learning and personal development

Also, remember your employee doesn’t just exist in a professional capacity for serving your organization. They are whole human beings that require a holistic development to evolve professionally and personally, so you should work towards developing their intellectual growth, physical health as well as emotional balance.

How can you get out of the business comfort zone created by Deliberate Ignorance?

According to W.Edwards Deming, the late quality guru, in any organization, about 80 percent of opportunities for improvement are at the top. So the higher up in rank the ignorance is, the greater the consequences to be dealt with. So how can you deal with deliberate ignorance as a leader?

Get clear on the Current State of Reality

What are the business activities within and outside your comfort zone? Identify and write them down. Then create another list of the top 5 activities that could grow your business but you are ignoring and delaying because they are outside your business comfort zone. Here are some indicators that can help you identify them:

  • Does thinking about the activity bring on the feeling of anxiety?
  • Does the thought of the activity create a mental fog?
  • Would the activity involve a risk of failure or rejection?

Clear your fears and inner critic chatter

Don’t let avoidance control you. Clear whatever illusions or limiting beliefs you’ve got in your head that’s restricting you into playing small. So go back to the first step above to review the items on your list that are outside your comfort zone. Then deconstruct or disprove the fear and inner critic chatter that is stopping you from going after each one.

What are the fears you are facing? Rejection? Failure? The unknown?

Whatever it is, get down to the root. See it for what it is. Is it realistic? Are you willing to move forward in spite of this fear?

Also if your inner critic says you aren’t ready to do something, it is only keeping you in the comfort zone. Separate your own best thoughts from its voice and talk back at him. Next time you find yourself falling into the abyss of deliberate ignorance think about the following questions:

  • What knowledge or information is hard for you to hear?
  • How might the deliberate avoidance of this knowledge or information affect your decisions in the long run?
  • How can this information or knowledge be included in a way that is productive to your thinking?


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