The 6 stages of ignorance

Lifelong learning for leaders

Photo by Kuma Kum on Unsplash

One of the hardest part of leadership is that you’ve never arrived — you’re never the complete package. Worse still, the skills required to be effective can feel counter-intuitive. Which is assuming that you know where your gaps are. I can say with some confidence that becoming a semi competent at management is something that takes place over the timescale of years. I’m not sure it’s possible to progress to true competence because the breadth of subjects is so great. All you have hope for is it to continue identifying and developing your leadership blind spots as time progresses. Luckily, there’s incredible writing on the subject out there waiting for you.

What this means is that learning is a skill you need to develop. It’s worth investing in this if you are to stand a chance at making a dent in the knowledge mountain and keep up with what’s happening in your job. A great starting place here is the free course Learning How to Learn. If you want to go a step further you can even learn to read more quickly.

But reading is not enough. Reading doesn’t get you anywhere if you don’t learn anything from it. To quote Schopenhauer from his essay “On Reading and Books”.

For the more one reads the fewer are the traces left of what one has read; the mind is like a tablet that has been written over and over. Hence it is impossible to reflect; and it is only by reflection that one can assimilate what one has read if one reads straight ahead without pondering over it later, what has been read does not take root, but is for the most part lost.

There are a number of stages we go through as we learn and grow:

  1. Ignorance. You don’t know about the topic. You may not even know we don’t know about the topic. This is where we start and spend most of our lives. If you took the sum total of human knowledge as an ocean then you have the ability to drink a cupful in your lifetime. We should be comfortable with being ignorant because it’s our natural condition. Ignorance is not a crime — wilful ignorance, on the other hand, may be. We can selectively address it should we so choose. To accelerate leaving this on a given topic get a mentor — they can guide you where your gaps are likely to be. It saves you time trying to trial and error your way out.

Understanding where you are on this journey can help you work out how to grow. Step 5 may be a happy outcome for you when acquiring knowledge. Not everyone has the urge to teach. But, if you’re investing time in reading and not turning it into positive change then it’s not a good use of your time. Far too often I see people read, parrot and then continue exactly as they were. You’d be better off doing something you’re get value out of.

What should you read? Read things you disagree with — this teaches you to consider other perspectives. Read things which are hard going — this teaches you persistence. Read things which are enjoyable — this keeps you reading. Read things which make you stop and think — this inspires you. Whatever you read — understand that it’s not yours until you make it yours. Understand where you are on your journey and you stand a chance of getting real value out of what you read beyond a pleasant diversion.

Ex-Google, ex-Netscape, ex-Skyscanner. Interested in solving complex problems without complexity and self sustaining self improving organisations.

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