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The Illusion of Knowledge

One of my favorite quotes about how 'what we know' can limit us comes from noted historian Daniel Boorstin, who wrote in his classic, The Discoverers, "The great obstacle to discovering the shape of the earth, the continents, and the ocean was not ignorance but the illusion of knowledge." Obviously we need experience and expertise to run our organizations, but how do we also ensure we're not overlooking opportunities or threats because we're blinded by what we know? In her book, The Innovation Killer, former Intel Innovation Strategist Cynthia Barton Rabe suggests one way to overcome the "paradox of expertise" is to seek out the input of "zero-gravity thinkers," people who are new enough to the challenge at hand that they don't know what "dumb" questions not to ask. Although this can be accomplished by bringing in consultants or external hires, another source can be your existing personnel. Wrestling with a complex marketing challenge? Go beyond the "usual suspects" and invite some folks from HR or Legal or Customer Service to weigh in, because their fresh eyes can help you see things from new and novel perspectives.

We're often blind to our own blindness, and the illusion of knowledge is a powerful contributor. The key to overcoming this barrier to innovation lies in adopting practices and tactics that allow us to look past our blinders, even if only temporarily. Enlisting "zero-gravity thinkers" is one way. We'll dig into some other challenges, such as an over-reliance on data, and tools to address them in future posts. Until then, be mindful of what you "know."

Illusion of Knowledge


(Note: This post was originally published on LinkedIn by David Phillips in December 2014.)

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