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Qualified Ignorance

{Note: Blogger was having technical issues yesterday preventing a post yesterday. My apologies.}

Have you ever noticed how many great discoveries are made by people who don’t know enough to realize their ideas are ‘impossible?’ They just plow ahead while experts shake their heads saying it can’t be done, especially by an amateur.

I’ve christened this trait in successful innovators as ‘qualified ignorance’ and salute all who have that trait.

Like any trait, it can cut both ways. Sometimes the experts are right and it can’t be done. Sometimes the experts actually have shortcuts that would save the innovator time if they were less ignorant of the field, but sometimes this ‘ignorant’ fresh approach is exactly what is needed to create breakthroughs.

It is sometimes helpful to understand something about the mechanics of innovation in order to cultivate it. Therefore:

If you are an expert in your field, how can you find ways to cultivate the fresh approach of the amateur to solve stubborn issues to progress in your research?

If you are an amateur or trying to break into a new field or just have a radical idea, how can you learn enough about the field to know the necessary shortcuts or hazards without corrupting your fresh eyes?

As faculty, how can we create a culture of innovation among our grad students to keep research fresh and truly exploring new ground?

Do we reward intelligent risk or disincentivize innovation by punishing failure?

In difficult times like these, we need innovation, not just spinning in our gerbil wheels faster.


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