Optimal Ignorance: Information You Don’t Need

war room from wargames lots of screens

One of the best articles I’ve seen on FTGN for awhile.

“Optimal ignorance,” a deliberately contrarian term, “refers to the importance of knowing what it is not worth knowing. It requires great courage to implement. It is far, far easier to demand more and more information than it is to abstain from demanding it.”  In other words, seeking optimal ignorance requires deliberately going about not wasting energy or time on information that distracts from the primary inquiry. 

Optimal Ignorance: A Filter for Intent-Based Leadership Above the Tactical Level – From the Green Notebook

We have been trained to pay attention to detail and ‘check small things.’ And these days, we have the technology and the means to keep constant tabs on everything and everyone.

The information is all there and available.

To be truly effective, though, we don’t need all of that information. In fact, too much information becomes paralyzing.

It takes maturity and confidence to realize you don’t need to know. You don’t have to have input or an opinion, either.

This is especially true for senior leaders. Every time a senior leader speaks, there’s a good chance those words are going to get scribbled down into a book and transformed into an order, tasking, or inquiry.

Even a simple request for clarification can turn into a multi-day goose chase for obscure information.

Of course, buying into optimal ignorance requires a great deal of trust within an organization. One of those things that briefs well, but might be hard to implement.

Related to this is the concept of “just-in-time” information. To squeeze the most out of a day, your system needs to be optimized to not saddle you down with information you don’t need right now. It should arrive precisely when you need it.

I, for one, choose to be just in time and optimally ignorant.

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If you had a completely free “extra” hour every day, how would you spend it?

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rubin-podcast

That is the question Gretchen Rubin used the other day on her podcast as a way to gauge what it is she ought to be doing. It’s such a simple trick.

Ask yourself, if you had one extra, completely free hour each day that sat somehow outside of the regular rules of time, how would you spend it? If you didn’t have to worry about it interfering with other things, or getting tired, or any other considerations, what would you do?

Essentially, the question asks, what do you most want to do?

Often, as she indicates, the thing we want to do is a thing we rarely do at all. It makes no sense. Why would we not do the one thing we want to do the most?

By identifying that one thing, it tells us a lot about what we want. More importantly, it begs why we haven’t made the adjustment to do that thing already. While freeing up an extra hour a day might not be completely possible, identifying the thing that you want to do with more time can help you prioritize the things you do when you make the time.

Freeing up an extra hour a day for a hobby isn’t always possible for me. However, I’ve found that I can find those extra hours during the early mornings on most weekends. Instead of forcing the extra hours into an already crammed workweek, I’ve built the time into the weekend at a time that I can control.

It’s worth re-evaluating how you would spend that one hour from time to time, as priorities change. It’s a great tool for seeing where you are and what’s missing from your life, and often provides a quick way to patch up a hole.

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