Do You Choose Willful Ignorance?

Willful Ignorance

What is willful ignorance? It is to intentionally keep one’s self unaware of the facts to avoid negative consequences associated with the actions that one takes. For example, going all out to promote Lean while knowing that all is not well with Lean (misunderstandings, misapplications, etc.) while failing to investigate why Lean is not doing well.

Of course, there are many things for which we pretend that all is well and cover our eyes to avoid seeing the reality of what we think is best to ignore. Perhaps it is a long-distance commute to work in a gas-guzzling pickup truck or eating a lot of the protein that has the largest carbon footprint (beef).

Whether it is bad for human health, bad for the environment, or bad for other people, willful ignorance can never be completely avoided.

But there are a least two important types of willful ignorance going on in Lean world:

The first is an unwillingness to recognize the monster reality that most top leaders are not interested in replacing classical management with Lean management.

The second is an unwillingness to recognize the technical and psychological struggles that Lean professionals must contend with.

While effective solutions to these problems may be very difficult to develop and even more difficult to put into place, simply acknowledging that they exist can go a long way towards turning down the gaslighting that signals all is well.

Now, the question is why people engage in willful ignorance for something as consequential as Lean management, which clearly has such a great impact on Lean professional’s lives and livelihoods?

As it affects others, willful ignorance is a type of selfishness. Selfish for what? To feel good about one’s self that they are doing the right thing. For example, doing the good thing of promoting Lean management because it is better than the alternative, classical management. In addition to feeling good about one’s self, one can claim both a higher intellectual status and a moral high ground given that Lean requires a different understanding of people and work (i.e., “respect for people” and eliminating waste, respectively).

Being willfully ignorant also avoids having to spend the time and effort to dig into the problems and learn more. I can attest from first-hand experience that the two important types of willful ignorance listed above take a lot of time and effort, with the former (“most top leaders are not interested in replacing classical management”) consuming many years.

So maybe in your case, willful ignorance is driven by intellectual laziness (lack of curiosity), time constraints, not wanting to face facts, or simply the ease of following the willfully ignorant herd. Whatever the case, ignorance means less work investigating, less explaining, or both.

But one thing should be obvious: Willful ignorance is the exact opposite of “Lean thinking” and The Toyota Way, which embody scientific thinking and experimentation — and thus curiosity.

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