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99's On the Go
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Creative Learning Director of
The Flirefly Group.
© 2014 Brian Remer
Updated April 2014
99's on the 9th
Plan to attend Brian's popular public workshop, Boredom Busters
- San Jose, CA, April 24, 2014
- Emeryville, CA, April 25, 2014
Read this story aloud or make copies for your group or team members.
Our friend Laura took a job teaching in Spain and never left. She met a man in Pamplona, married, raised her children, and settled in as a member of his extended family. Her Spanish is fluent; she knows the local history and politics; she has visited every town in the surrounding area. She seems fully acculturated. Except she isn't.
"After 20 years, I still can't read the subtle social cues of class and status," Laura says, "And I don't want to! Brain surgeons, politicians, or fishermen, they're all just friends to me!"
Sometimes ignorance is a benefit!
You can build upon the theme of this 99-Word Story by using some of the following questions for your own reflection or to spark a discussion within your team or organization.
There are many ways to understand this story as the discussion questions suggest. If you or your group would like to compare or contrast your interpretation with an outside viewpoint, consider this analysis.
Ignorance is underrated. Though we are conditioned to assume that ignorance in undesirable, in some cases it can be helpful.
To be clear, there is more than one kind of ignorance. There is the kind in which a person does not have knowledge or experience but believes they are competent. These people make short-sighted decisions, act on their prejudices, alienate others, take unnecessary risks, and say things they later regret. They are the type of people we exclude from our teams and avoid at dinner parties.
Another kind of ignorance also arises from a lack of knowledge or experience but the person is blessed with healthy curiosity. These people ask provocative questions, challenge assumptions, experiment with ideas, take calculated risks, and walk old paths with fresh eyes. To be truthful, they may also be upsetting to people who are accustomed to the way things have always been. We may still not want them on our team or to eat dinner with them on a weekend. But they challenge us to rethink old ways.
One question this 99-Word Story raises is whether we ought to cultivate opportunities in which the positive side of ignorance can flourish. Are there specific times we can accomplish more by injecting a bit of ignorance? Several situations come to mind:
- Generating ideas through brainstorming
- Assessing a situation before initiating a project
- Solving problems during a project
- Experimenting with ideas, methods, or products
- Planning the course of an organization
- Evaluating project-wide progress
Each of these situations would benefit from insights based in positive ignorance. Why not invite someone with an outsider's perspective who knows enough to be able to participate but not so much that their thinking has fossilized? Or perhaps members of the team can take turns playing this role.
However it is done, the person who brings the advantages of positive ignorance is like someone entering a foreign culture. They know they are in a foreign land and take nothing for granted. They are willing to be surprised - especially by their own assumptions. They ask "Why?" without a hint of threat or accusation. They don't worry about being embarrassed by their own ignorance. They can admit when they are wrong. They have a sense of humor. And they have the curiosity to probe and explore.
In the world of business, we sometimes call these people consultants. And many people promote the idea of becoming an internal consultant within their own organization. But the benefits of positive ignorance can also be derived from new employees, interns, and anyone fresh from an extended vacation.
Can you nurture positive ignorance in yourself? What would be the effect on your work if you were to learn a second language, take music lessons, indulge in an art class, or begin a new hobby? Even reading a periodical outside your area of personal or professional interest can help you become a bit "cross-cultural."
Of course, when the person bringing positive ignorance is unappreciated, they are considered at best a nuisance and at worst a troublemaker. To avoid this tendency, look for the subtle social cues that designate a "foreigner" and then take advantage of the unorthodox views they have to share.
Did you use this 99-Word Story and the discussion questions or interpretation in your work or personal life? If so, about your experience! If you would like help using 99-Word Stories in your organization, please me.
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