Pure Genius: Using the Wisdom and Power of Ignorance in Your Team!

Remember when you were a kid, and you took on a completely improbable task, only to succeed? You might see this in your own kids today. They set out to sell the most gift wrapping paper in their class, despite the challenge that your neighborhood is flooded with kids from the same school selling the same paper, to the same neighbors.

Don’t your kids set out enthusiastically, knowing that they will simply sell in record numbers? Of course they do! Well, a client in Las Vegas recently interviewed a candidate (who he hired on the spot) who sold over $150,000 worth of Girl Scout cookies in one year!

How? She simply went with her dad to work, and sold “floor to floor” to businesses, who bought the cookies in record numbers. The sales took place in less than one month, and she only showed up after school! Many of the floors self-organized the sales for her, while she was at school. Amazing? Yes, but only if you think in more traditional sales figures. The trick was, she simply did not realize that selling $150,000 worth of cookies in a month was anything that could not do!

She employed “the wisdom and power of ignorance” and it can work wonders for your team as well.

Our Brains as Filters

Why is it that kids can take on possibilities without much time or energy wasted, while adults spend endless hours talking themselves out of all kinds of simple things?

Remember, the only difference really between children and adults is height, so if that remains the case, adults can play in this “anything is possible” paradigm too! It just takes a bit of turning off your developed brain a bit….like going back to that childlike wonder.

Our brains are trained over time to find more reasons why we cannot do something than they are willing to consider what we can actually do. That’s why we cut budgets and sales projections, rather than setting higher revenue goals. We also set out to lose 10 pounds, rather than get into the best shape of our lives, which would require much more energy, courage or work—but a goal for which we would take much more pride in!

We have simply lived long enough to be realistic in what to expect….or are we really being just pessimistic? It’s a fair question.

At best, our brains protect us from delving too far into unrealistic ideas, goals, or objectives. At worst, our brains (especially when in a team environment) allow us to get talked out of going for the biggest prize, the top spot, or a big raise. We learn instead to play more conservatively, or cautiously. Then, we cannot get hurt as much if we fail. We learned this all through school mostly.

Do you remember playing that way at the park when you were a kid? Probably not, as that is where you and I both learned risk tolerance, taking chances, adventure, and the idea that “anything is possible”. We were willing to let go of the chains on the large swing, and dismount high into the air, or go really high on the opposite side of the teeter-totter from our sibling.

In short, we simply did not know any better, and the results often left us with a complete sense of wonder and adventure. Well, if you did not know any better as a larger kid version of yourself, do you think you could dig deep to access that same mode of operation in yourself and in your team?

High Performing Teams and Goals

One of the primary hallmarks of high performing teams rests with the idea that they pursue and desire well defined goals. These goals require that there is a “big prize” and then the team needs shorter-range, compelling and clear goals that unify and galvanize them on shared purpose. Sequencing these to an annual result works well, but it’s key that the team wants to achieve the goals. This is the equivalent of a “what if” or a “dare” on the playground. It sounds like a kid wondering if you could pump hard enough on the swing to actually go all the way around the top, or if you could fly off of the teeter-totter.

We learn as children that you can….sort of, if you’re willing to risk failure, or a trip to the urgent care center. When you fail as a kid, you just move to the next adventure on the playground. High performing teams do this pretty well too! They simply do not dwell on the (short-term) failure and get back to chasing the objective or goal instead. That’s just more fun!

Here is a short list of the rewards that high performing teams earn when they use the wisdom and power of ignorance to set a lofty or super challenging goal:

  1. Focused attention Nothing gets everyone’s attention like a really big goal.
  2. Teamwork – A big goal requires and demands teamwork. It makes every position vital.
  3. Learning – If structured well, a big goal will require learning in order to succeed.
  4. Adventure/Fun – Even when teams fall short, they have lots more fun with big goals.
  5. Resiliency – Big goals create resiliency in teams, as there will be challenges!
  6. Transparency – Big goals require us to face our deficiencies authentically and quickly.

In the end, when an effective Team Leader (or parent) is being most effective, that Team Leader simply asks the team, “What If?” and then allows the team to design the conversation and the final version of the goal. The Team Leader can edit, and should never create. Let the team do that, as once the team members have designed and created a big goal, they certainly will own that goal much better than if the Team Leader or “senior leadership” forces the goal upon the team.

Ownership rests as the key—when the team that creates the goal also owns the goal, the entire list of benefits shown above all come about in some measure. If the team never really owns the goal, no amount of leadership can make them as effective.

For kids, this looks like a dare—“I dare you to do this or that!” No more powerful words are spoken at the playground, at an amusement park, or even at home. Kids simply lack the wisdom to realize that they are most likely not capable, nor would it be advisable to take on such a task.

So they simply play….and succeed a much higher percentage of the time than adults do. Therein lays the wisdom and power of ignorance.

So What About Your Team?

Ready for your team to utilize the wisdom and power that kids use—namely, ignorance?

It’s simple really. You have one of two options:

  • Challenge the team, but do not specify the end result nor the road to accomplish it. Again, we want the team to design, create, and own the end goal, such that they fully drive the results. Your language might sound like this:

“We’re going to win this year’s ‘Top Selling Team’ award. Who’s in?”

  • Ask a “what if?” question of the team. The end result is the same, if the team picks up the ball and runs with it. Remember, as the Team Leader, your job is to edit, not create. Otherwise, the team will not fully own the goal. Your language might sound like this:

“What if we took over the “Top Selling Team” position this year?

Either way, you purposefully engaging your team will result in them having waaaaay more fun at what they do, learning waaaay more than they would have without the big goal, and win, lose or draw, your team and each team member will become a better person for having gone on the journey with you and with their teammates.

Go for it! You’re not wise enough to realize that it’s outrageous. That’s most likely one of the key reasons you will most likely succeed.

All the best!

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