Ignorance is Bliss

Throughout our lives, we study and practice the skill we find useful for an incredible amount of time, expecting to be ready when the moment comes that we have to use them.

Despite still agreeing with the practice/study paradigm, I’m starting to notice that knowing everything is not the best solution in all the situations. This thought came to my mind again when reading a recent article in the Sport magazine, about which conditions made possible to the British cycling team to win so many medals in the last Olympic Games (if you want to know more about it, you can read it here).

What caught my attention was the description of the research and development group, responsible to discover the best technologies to be used in the cycling competition. The group actually collaborates with many people outside the cycling industry, like F1 teams, and aerospace and defense companies. When asked to explain why, the head of development answered:

We really value ignorance. So we got to ask people who really know nothing about cycling. An aerodynamicist will ask: ‘Why do you do it like that?’ We’ll look at each other and say: ‘I don’t know.’ That really opens things up

This is also described by Richard S. Wurman, in his book Information Anxiety, where he describes common problems in understanding, citing the expert opinion syndrome:

We tend to believe that the more expert opinions we get, the more informed we will be. But we tend to forget that expert opinion is by no means synonymous with objective opinion. Unfortunately, most experts come with a bias that makes obtaining truly objective information almost impossible.

And when it comes to software development, this situation can be easily seen in coaching, either externally or internally. It is not rare to see coaching being done with a biased opinion, where coaches arrive with a ready-made solution that they want to apply, despite the conditions being face by the team.

Solving problems, complicated or not, has to be done with a clear mind. We have to assume our ignorance when facing any new situation, so we can understand it better and provide the best solution.

  1. dlbock said:

    Good post there! I found it really helpful!

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