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Ignorance 101

Most of what we know today will be useless in fifteen years. We work very hard to be certain and get things right, when the truth is that our knowledge has an expiry date.

Take the example of medicine, an area where most of us assume that the experts in the field know what they’re doing.  However, if you listen to the Dean of Harvard Medical School welcoming new students you’ll hear him telling them that in ten to twenty years, 50 per cent of what they’ve learned at medical school will be proven not to be true, with the additional problem that we don’t know which fifty per cent this will be. 

And now take the example of Dr Witte, who has devoted a great part of her career to teaching medical students about ignorance. 

The basic idea for her course came from the observation that when we think we know everything we stop asking questions and stop learning.

Dr Witte’s class, widely known as Ignorance 101, is about asking questions to which we don’t yet have the answers. 

She is committed to a very disruptive and hard-to-grasp field of knowledge. As she says, the scope of our ignorance is slippery and not easy to climb. 


Dr Witte rightly asserts that our ignorance is shaped by what we take for granted, forbidden knowledge, our own taboos, and things that are too painful to know. 

When I was ten years old I dared to ask my science teacher how engineers could build a dam in the middle of a river. She told me that that was such a stupid question that she would not take the time to answer it. My entire time as a student until I went to university was moulded by the idea that I could only ask questions that wouldn’t make me look stupid.

In searching for meaningful work and stories, acknowledging that we don’t know is important. Meaningful stories that lead to meaningful work are most likely to develop around things we don’t yet know.

If your story isn’t working for you, if it’s not connecting you to the people you want to work with, maybe these questions can help:

What are you taking for granted when it comes to your story?

What don’t you want to see that could create more meaning in your life and business right now?

What don’t you want to know because it might be painful?  



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