Among other things, I’m a political junkie, a consultant to business leaders and their leadership teams, a regular global business traveler, and an all-around curious person. These roles and this personality trait have led me to also be an agnotologist. “A what?”, you ask. Read on.
Think of knowledge as a tropical island surrounded by a great sea of ignorance. The island becomes more lush as it expands in random and unpredictable fits and starts, pushing away parts of the ignorant sea, and replacing it with solid ground and vibrant growth. Most people live quite comfortably on the island, often as far from the shoreline as possible.
Others though, others are drawn to the shore. They thrive on ambiguity and a desire to know what lies beyond, hidden in the depths of the water. Their curiosity knows no bounds so they’re driven to know more, to overcome ignorance, to expand the island.
Then there are those who desire to shrink the island, to block access to new knowledge, to deny and obfuscate any facts or research which would prevent their blissful bopping around unfettered by any challenges or uncertainty. (Hello climate change deniers.)
Agnotology: the study of cultural or deliberate spreading of ignorance.
As your agnotologist, I have some advice for you to consider…
When things go well many business leaders rush for the center of the island, a place where they can remain cocooned in their accomplishments and free of uncertainty. Creative thinking and innovation are stunted or disappear entirely. While they bask in success their curious competitors race past them to the shoreline, ever eager to explore the unknown, to find solutions to new problems, to turn ignorance to knowledge.
Too many are happy to only know what they know, to continuously feed off the tried and true, to close their minds to new ideas. They are unwilling to challenge themselves to learn about people or situations or subjects that are not part of their comfortable everyday lives. They fear the disruption that new knowledge will bring.
However it comes about, whether through an unconscious closing of your mind to new knowledge, suppression, inattention, or willful action to obfuscate, the result is the same. We know less than we could and should and we pay the price for this ignorance. We constrain our lives, our companies fall behind instead of thriving, the entire world suffers as the water rises.
Even if you’re considered an Expert or Guru by yourself or others, there’s always more for you to learn. Leave the comfort of your island, break through your fear of the unknown, push back the deep waters of ignorance.
Wayne Gretsky, the great hockey player, credited his success to this particular strategy: “I skate to where the puck will be, not where it has been.”
The NHL playoffs are now underway and while I mostly ignore the world of sports, ice hockey is one game I understand and enjoy watching because I used to play it.
What I like about hockey is the amazing ability of a player to send a small, hard, round cylinder soaring through a mass of opposing players at a high rate of speed to the exact place at the exact time that their teammate will be waiting for it. What I like even more, is the amazing ability of that teammate to anticipate where that puck will end up, often without even watching its flight, and to be there to receive it. All while maneuvering on skates at a breakneck pace in order to stay out of the clutches of the competition.
It’s an exceptional example of teamwork, skill, knowledge, instinct, trust and the ability to predict the future and visualize one’s place in it…
Sounds like what it takes to be the successful leader of a profitable company. Particularly the part about predicting the future and visualizing where you will be. Successful business leaders and successful hockey players both have their eyes on a goal… and they do everything they can to energize and motivate themselves and every member of their team to reach it and to win.
Being fixated on a goal and doing what it takes to get there in business as in hockey requires risk taking and being willing to accept that not everything goes according to the strategy in place. The route can be bruising and yes, a fight may break out from time to time. But as long as the goal and the vision to reach that goal stays clear, a new route can be planned, the puck can go to a teammate, new resources brought in to help.
My local hockey team, the Philadelphia Flyers, are known for their fighting spirit. This year, they barely made it into the playoffs. And now they’ve made a rapid exit. But there’s always next year…With the right team in place, with all eyes of management, staff, and players fixated on that goal and anticipating what is to come, winning is in sight.