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Ignorance Or Ineptitude?

by David Brock on March 31st, 2015

The words, Ignorance and Ineptitude, catch your attention immediately.  Being accused of either provokes an immediate reaction.  It may be hurt or disappointment.  Possibly defensiveness or denial.  Sometimes the “fight” response comes up, “Who are you calling…..?”  Whatever the response, these words, when applied personally are offensive and they demand our attention.

I’ve been re-reading Dr. Atul Gawande’s,  The Checklist Manifesto:  How To Get Things Right.  While the book came out years ago, it’s worth a quick review.  Gawande talks about Ignorance, the Lack Of Knowledge; and Ineptitude, the Failure To Apply That Knowledge.

Ignorance or lack of knowledge impacts everyone.  At some point, in everything we do, we are ignorant, we lack knowledge to move forward achieving our goals.

We might be new to a job, we have to learn about the company we work for, the products and services we sell, how things get done in the company, who the customers are, how we engage those customers.

It might be about a customer–the enterprise.  We need to learn their goals, strategies, priorities, how they are perceived in their markets, by their customers or competitors.  We have to learn who is who, how things get done, how we might discover opportunities.

It might be about a specific opportunity.  We need to learn what the customer is trying to achieve, why they are doing it in the first place, who’s involved in the buying decision, their roles, the alternatives they are considering, what they are looking for in a solution, how they will justify a solution, what it takes for us to win.

We are confronted every day with things we don’t know and things we need to know to move forward in whatever it is we are trying to achieve.

The best of us are always learning, always exploring, always trying to identify where we are ignorant and how we acquire knowledge.

And the worst, it’s those who don’t know what they don’t know and aren’t seeking to figure it out.

Ignorance is always solvable, providing we have the drive and desire to change those things about which we are ignorant.  Great managers are always teaching–formally through training, informally through experiential and coaching methods.  Great professionals are always learning.  Reading, enrolling in courses outside work, engaging new people in new conversations.

Ineptitude, is far more challenging.  Probably far more dangerous.

Ineptitude is our failure to apply those things that we have learned.  It’s the failure to leverage our past experience.  Knowing what works, what doesn’t.

It’s our failure to apply our organizational experience, knowing what others have done that works and applying that.  For example, leveraging our sales process, our account planning processes.

It’s our failure in knowing we have to be customer focused, yet always pitching our products and solutions.

It’s knowing that we have to research the customer and the individual, being knowledgeable about them before even engaging them.

It’s knowing that we have to create value in every interaction with the customer, instead wasting her time talking about what we care about.

Ineptitude is unacceptable and unforgivable.  When we know what we should be doing, but fail to do it, we have no one else to blame except ourselves.

Ineptitude, combined with Ignorance is about doing the same thing over and over, but expecting a different result.

Continuous learning, consistent-disciplined execution, and continuous improvement are the way we eliminate Ignorance and Ineptitude.

What are you committed to?


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