Wednesday, 5 February 2014

7 Deadly Sins of Process Improvement/Change - #6 Ignorance

My penultimate deadly sin is that of Ignorance. Ignorance is purely and simply a lack of knowledge, information or understanding. Ignorance itself is not the deadly sin as clearly we are all ignorant about certain (most?) subjects. The sin is in failing to do something about rectifying your own or other's ignorance when it matters, or in pretending that you know about matters which, in reality, you are completely ignorant about. (There is an alternative definition of ignorance pertaining to rudeness, but that's beyond the scope of this particular post!)


Understand what you do and don't know

One only has to look at the comments associated with articles posted on the internet to see ignorance in action. Regardless of the nature of the article you will be able to find examples of comments which are clearly written by people with absolutely no knowledge or understanding of the subject. These are people who have discovered that they have a voice and are determined to use it. Occasionally I find these types of comment amusing, but mostly I'm saddened that this is the only outlet some folk have.

Much more pernicious are the comments posted in unmoderated question and answer forums, such as those on LinkedIn, where seemingly knowledgeable people are able to post misleading, incorrect or even dangerous answers to questions posed by unwary forum members. I do think that these forums have a tendency to make people lazy - it's much easier to post a question and get an assortment of answers than it is to do proper research, but at least people are asking their questions in the pursuit of knowledge (for whatever reason).

Involve the people with real knowledge

 Most dangerous of all is ignorance as practiced in the workplace by hierarchically 'superior' executives who make uninformed decisions based on their own self belief of their true abilities. This is especially the case when other staff with genuine knowledge and understanding are ignored or overruled simply because they are 'junior'.

In the specific arena of process, quality and change management there generally aren't a whole bunch of right answers (although arguably there are quite a lot of 'wrong' answers. Strategies and tactics depend on context, including the organisational culture, people and the direction of the prevailing wind. I can't begin to count the number of times I've seen ignorance presented as fact. In one engagement I put forward a number of proposals to reduce complexity and redundancy in the organisation process documentation. Almost every proposal was rejected on the grounds that "the proposal is non compliant with CMMI L3 so it can't be done". In every instance the process owner was hiding behind their ignorance of the CMMI without understanding the guiding principles of the model. After a bit of coaching, and some learning moments 95% of the recommendations were accepted as proposed, and the remainder accepted with some rewording.

I hope I never stop learning and relearning. Understanding new ideas and concepts is key to developing better outcomes for clients (and myself). Sometimes our own understanding of existing ideas and concepts need rethinking and alternative viewpoints. And the day I give someone advice based on something I know nothing about... is the day to quit.

Laws to Overcome Ignorance

1st Law - Be on the constant lookout for new ideas, concepts and tools to help you see a bigger picture

2nd Law - Never stop learning and encourage others to do the same

3rd Law - Challenge ignorance wherever it manifests itself as false knowledge and fact

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