General ignorance:: accident or design?

The PROFESSIONAL-NOVICE DIVIDE is something that I have touched upon before, when dealing with “Hierarchies of Understanding” and “The difference between knowledge and understanding”. But, from the evidence of what I have seen in my own industry [insurance] – like wider Society – the gap between the haves and the have-nots, is, if not widening, then certainly not closing! This isn’t only detrimental to current stakeholders and shareholders…

  • job satisfaction
  • employee retention
  • effectiveness and efficiency
  • errors and omissions
  • management and performance
  • governance and compliance
  • profitability
  • resilience and sustainability

…but to those that follow.

I’m sure that there are those conspiracy theorists who would suggest that this is no accident. But I’m not so sure. Although I could be easily persuaded that leaders of the prevailing culture – some of whom view technology, like financial rewards, only in terms of what short term benefits it brings them and their business – still view humans and technology within organisations as separate entities.

How can they be? They are interdependent components in the processes of a business system that has been created to perform a range of functions from which the organisation generates revenue, the means to sustain the enterprise and (hopefully) profit.

This kind of thinking is holding many organisations back!

The ambiguity of conflicting strategies – saying one thing and doing something different – is a drain on resource and a major obstacle to a credible Social Business presence. So are convoluted processes and legacy or IT systems whose capabilities are mis-aligned with the activities of workers. The result, at process-level, is reduced effectiveness. Additional or supplementary steps represent an  ever-present threat of oversight or duplication but also invite short-cuts, that satisfy the immediate goals of the worker but, that, without an understanding – general ignorance – of the needs of inter-connected processes or the business at an holistic level can be sources of considerable risk courtesy of the butterfly effect.BusinessRisks

Layering technological and human processes, legislative and regulatory requirements, instead of integrating and aligning them, is one sure-fire way of  increasing risk as well as hurting the effectiveness and profitability of a business.

When, even, basic tasks are no longer simple is this “Complexity paralysis”?

My own theory, therefore, is, that whilst general ignorance IS an undoubted threat, it is often a product of mismanagement…amplified by layers of incompetence: generating and conflating risk across the silos of hierarchical organisational structures; draining resources; adding complexity; reducing resilience. Resulting in a growing need to spend on treatment of the symptoms…through internal/external risk management, business and specialist consultancy/training, bespoke IT, MI programmes, etc.

Without, first, mapping and measuring the current complexity level of a business it is impossible to differentiate cause from effect. So the process of identifying sources of operational strengths and weaknesses and to (re)building RESILIENCE cannot begin.

Regulation and control are the most important processes in nature. Understanding these processes is fundamental to the continuous existence of all organizations – biological, mechanical and social. 

The existence of any organization directly depends on the ability to transfer and correctly process information. 

All biological, mechanical and social systems transfer and process information in a similar manner.  

Prof Norbert Wiener, MIT

So a lack of genuine leadership – (mis)management merely perpetuates a vicious circle of ignorance – is an impediment to: improving worker engagement; increasing cognitive capabilities and contribution; more adaptable [agile] operational structures; business process integration and improvement; more effective, consistent and reliable information-flow. Each can influence performance but, collectively can make the difference between success and failure in the, hyper-competitive, Digital Age.

Just because you haven’t identified that the problem is the solution doesn’t mean that others, within your business sector, haven’t developed or imported [exaptation] a strategy from another sector to help them seize invaluable competitive advantage….firms that don’t evolve and adapt to a changed environment are easy targets for new entrants to a market!

Enlightened leadership can inspire a virtuous circle: Smarter organisations make people smarter, makes for better decisions…let’s face facts, smart leaders don’t just want to deal with smart organisations, they NEED to. It is in their interests to do so. They have a fiduciary duty!   



A conceptual representation of the professional-novice cognitive divide; a  communication divide caused by the wide gap in subject-matter understanding between expert and non-expert.  From the expert’s perspective, the subject matter under discussion is relatively simple, understandable, contextual, useful, and organized.  But the student, familiar with only a few pieces of subject-related data, finds the subject matter mysterious, disconnected, complex, unusable, and disordered.  It may take the student years of study to achieve expert-level understanding.

Our present culture classifies humans and technology as separate entities.  But Clark [6] argues that we can not disambiguate ourselves from our technology; that information technology is an extension of mind; that we are seamless cybernetic organisms.  Thus, Clark sees no a priori limit to our cognitive ability because it expands with technology; the mind is just less and less in the body.  Carpenter and Cannady [5] also take this view – that humans develop computing technology and computing technology amplifies human cognition.  The two iteratively amplify each other.  Figure 4 shows two individuals and their respective triangular- and diamond-shaped representations of their allocation of mental spaces.  The individual standing at the bottom is without technology; and the allocation of their mental space is dominated by low-level cognitive processes, such as data processing, and the Ackoff-like triangularly-shaped allocation of mental space is the result.  In contrast, the other individual applies data-handling technology to free-up some of their mental space which is then applied to higher layers of cognition; their allocation of mental space is a diamond-shaped distribution among the cognitive layers of data, information, knowledge, wisdom, and vision.



Figure 5 extends the trend in cognitive up-shift by considering near-term semantic technology [7, 8] that processes information and knowledge with the same ease as numbers are processed today.  Our culture may come to view information and knowledge as mundane and as boring as data is today.  Humans may find greater interest in goal-setting, decision-making, value-setting, and strategy (all efforts to turn vision into reality).  Ackoff’s prediction [2] that most of our cognitive energy goes to the data and information layers is turned upside down in this new top-down paradigm enabled by semantic technology.

Related articles

3 Responses to General ignorance:: accident or design?

  1. Hadley Wood says:

    Great article David. I agree with your thoughts. This is the elephant in the room – most people just can’t see it (and others choose not too).

    • Hi Hadley,
      Glad you get it!Too many in our industry believe they know too much to be “told” how to structure, their business, bring out the best in their workers, improve operational effectiveness, profitability and, in the process, gain a competitive advantage over their competitors.

      All the best,


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s