Ignorance Mining

Ignorance means “not knowing” and as the saying goes “Ignorance is bliss” because we do not worry about what we do not know about.  Or do we?

We are not totally ignorant – because we know that there are “unknowns” that would be of value to us. This knowledge creates an anxiety that we are very good at pushing out of awareness and despite the denial the unconscious feeling remains and it is emotionally corrosive. Repressed anxiety leads to the counter-productive behaviour of self-deception and then to self-justification – both of which are potent impedients to improvement.

We habitually, continuously and unconsciously discount the importance of what we do not know and in so doing we create internal emotional dissonance.  Our inner conflict drives external discounting behaviour and the inevitable toxic cultural consequence – Erosion of Trust.  Our inner conflict also drives internal discounting behaviour and the inevitable toxic emotional consequence – Erosion of  Confidence. This is the toxic emotional waste swamp that we create for ourselves and is the slippery slope that leads down to frustration, depression, cynicism and apathy. Ignorance  leads to anxiety and fear – and because we have conditioned ourselves to back away from fear we reflexly back away from ignorance and we end up trading fear for frustration. We do it to ourselves first and then we do it to others.

The antidote is counter-intuitive: it is to actively acknowledge and embrace our ignorance – and to do that we have to deliberately expose our own ignorance because we are very, very good at burying it from conscious view under a mountain of self-deception and self-justification.  We need to become Ignorace Miners.

The opposite of ignorance if knowledge and the good news is that we only need to scratch the surface to find knowledge nuggets – not huge ones perhaps – but plentiful. A bag of small knowledge nuggets is as valuable as an ingot of insight!

Knowledge nuggets are durable because they withstand cultural erosion but they can get washed away in the flood of toxic emotional waste and they can get buried under layers of cynical-resentful-arrogant-pessimism (CRAP).  These knowledge nuggests need to be re-gathered, re-freshed and re-cycled – and it is an endlessly exciting and energising experience.

So, when we are feeling fustrated, demotivated and depressed we just need to give ourselves a break and indulge in a bit of gentle ignorance mining – and when we do we will start to feel better immediately.

Qualigence, Quantigence and Synergence

It seems that some people are better than others at figuring out what to do when presented with a new challenge.

Every day we are all presented with new challenges – c’est la vie – and for one challenge some of us seem to know what to do and others of us are left scratching our heads.

Yet, when presented with a different challenge the tables are turned.

Why is that?

Until recently I believed that improvement was just a matter of accumulating enough knowledge and experience – but the pattern seems to be evident in people of all ages and experience: there seems to be more to it than just experience.

So, I searched the Internet on the topic of “problem solving” and many of the references mentioned the word “intelligence” – a word that generates mixed feelings for me.

My mixed feelings came from an experience I had as a student. I am, by nature, both competitive and curious and I felt it would be useful to know my IQ and to meet others who shared my curiosity – so I did the Mensa test. I “passed” and was duly invited to a get-together at a local pub and was informed that I only needed to look for the distinctive yellow magazine to identify the meeting table (mensa is latin for table). I did not need the magazine to identify the table of Mensans and after that first encounter I chose not to return.  I had a sense that there was something missing – high IQ was not enough – and it was that “something” I was looking for.

I now know that mixed feelings are often a symptom of an over-simplification; a signpost to a deeper awareness; and a hint to keep digging for the deeper meaning. Here is a definition of the word “intelligence” that I found on Wikipedia:

“Intelligence: A very general mental capability that, among other things, involves the ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly and learn from experience. It is not merely book learning, a narrow academic skill, or test-taking smarts. Rather, it reflects a broader and deeper capability for comprehending our surroundings—”catching on,” “making sense” of things, or “figuring out” what to do.

This definition resonates and prompted a question:
“Are there more forms of intelligence than the ones we are familiar with in the Mensa-style Intelligence Quotient (IQ) tests? And if so, how many forms of intelligence are there and what are their characteristics?”

My intuition said “Yes – there are more than one” and I had the sense that are at least two forms; one that is conscious and that deals with quantities – so I labelled that as quantity-intelligence or quantigence; and another that is unconscious and deals with qualities – so I labelled that as quality-intelligence or qualigence.

It also felt that these are not independent of each other – they do not feel like two separate dimensions – they feel like two views of the same thing.  It just did not feel right that we might be observed, measured and scored on independent IQ scales and then classifed, arranged, ranked, selected, compared, and improved; it feels more dynamic than that.

Perhaps it is how well we are able to employ the multiple forms of IQ in a dynamic and synergistic way to figure out what to do more easily, more quickly and more often.

But what does all this have to do with Improvement Science?

Well because improvement only happens after we figure out what to do and then we actually do it. Both diagnosis and treatment are necessary and the sequence order is important – treatment before diagnosis carries a greater risk of unintended consequences – and unintended consequences are usually negative.

Challenges that require a balance of qualigence and quantigence at the diagnosis stage will appear “tougher” to solve and siuch challenges will tend to accumulate as a list of long-standing, unsolved and unspoken niggles – like a veritable herd of emotional elephants in the room.

This niggle-mine seems to be where the greatest opportunities for improvement are buried – nuggets of new knowledge waiting to be uncovered.

How then do we know if we have a qualigence-quantigence gap?

I concluded that if we are continually struggling with the same old problems; are spending a lot of effort, time, and money; and are not making progress then we  can be sure we have a gap somewhere. The questions are “what, where and how to convert our niggles into nuggets – our weaknesses into strengths?”.

It would appear that we need three ingredients – qualigence, quantigence, and an ability to dynamically integrate them into something that is even greater than the sum of the parts – something we might call synergy-intelligence or synergence.

To test this idea I searched the Internet for the word “synergence” and found many hits that resonated with this concept. Good.

Our next step might be to look more closely at the three ingredients and to ask:

  • Q1.  What would I need to diagnose and treat a quantigence gap?
  • Q2. What would I need to diagnose and treat a qualigence gap?
  • Q3. What would I need to diagnose and treat a synergence gap?

These are powerful questions.

Passion, Persistence and Patience.

One goal of Improvement Science is self-sustaining improvement. This does not mean fixing the same problem day-after-day: it means solving new challenges first-time and and for-ever. Patching the same problem over-and-over is called fire-fighting and is an emotionally and financially expensive strategy. We all get a buzz out of solving problems; and that is a good thing because when we free ourselves from the miserable world of the “can’t/won’t do mindset”  we gain the confidence to take action, to solve problems and to gain access to an endless supply of feel-good-fuel.

Be warned though: there is a danger lurking here in the form of the unconscious assumption that if we solve all the problems then we will run out of things to do and our supply of feel-good-fuel will dry up too.  This misconception and our unconscious fear of ego-starvation conspires to undermine our efforts and we can unintentionally drift into reactive fire-fighting behaviour – which sustains our egos but maintains the mediocre status quo. We may also unconsciously collude with others who supply their egos with feel-good-fuel from the same source – and by doing that condemn us all to perpetual mediocrity.

The root cause of our behaviour is our natural tendancy to see challenges as problems – the negative stuff –  the niggles – what we see that is getting the the way and must be removed. We are not as good at seeing challenges as opportunities – the positive stuff – the nice ifs – because we do not see what is not there.  The reason for our distorted perception is because the “caveman wetware between our ears” hasn’t evolved to give us a balanced perspective.  Fortunately, we have evolved the ability to see with our mind’s eye: to dream, to imagine and to conduct “thought experiments”. When we apply that capability we start to ask “What if?” questions.

What if …  I were to see challenges as either niggles (to be lost) or nice-ifs (to be gained)? 
What if … there is a limited or manageable number of niggles to be removed?
What if … I believe there is an unlimited supply of nice-ifs?
What if … I do not get the nice-ifs because I spend all my life fighting the same old niggles?
What if … I nailed some niggles once and for all?
What if … I had time and energy to focus on some nice-ifs?         

None of us enjoy disappointment. We do not like the feeling that follows from reality failing to meet our expectation – we see it as  failure and we often take it personally or accuse others.  As children we can dream freely because have not yet been disappointed enough not to; as adults we appear to lower our expectations to avoid the feeling of disappointment. We learn to settle for smaller dreams or no dreams at all.  I believe the reason we do this is simply because we are not taught any other way – we are not taught how to deliberately and actively access the inexhaustible supply of feel-good-fuel that is the locked-up in our dreams – our nice-ifs. We are not taught how to nail niggles once and forever and how to re-invest our lifetime into make some of our dreams a reality.  To learn those skills we need passion, persistence and patience – and a process. That process is called Improvement Science.


It is a fantastic feeling when a piece of the jigsaw falls into place and suddenly an important part of the bigger picture emerges. Feelings of confusion, anxiety and threat dissipate and are replaced by a sense of insight, calm and opportunitity.

Improvement Science is about 80% subjective and 20% objective: more cultural than technical – but the technical parts are necessary. Processes obey the Laws of Physics – and unlike the Laws of People these not open to appeal or repeal. So when an essential piece of process physics is missing the picture is incomplete and confusion reigns.

One piece of the process physics jigsaw is JIT (Just-In-Time) and process improvement zealots rant on about JIT as if it were some sort of Holy Grail of Improvement Science.  JIT means what you need arrives just when you need it – which implies that there is no waiting of it-for-you or you-for-it.  JIT is an important output of an improved process; it is not an input!  The danger of confusing output with input is that we may then try to use delivery time as a mangement metric rather than a performance metric – and if we do that we get ourselves into a lot of trouble. Delivery time targets are often set and enforced and to a large extent fail to achieve their intention because of this confusion.  To understand how to achieve JIT requires more pieces of the process physics jigsaw. The piece that goes next to JIT is labelled WIP (Work In Progress) which is the number of jobs that are somewhere between starting and finishing.  JIT is achieved when WIP is low enough to provide the process with just the right amount of resilience to absorb inevitable variation; and WIP is a more useful management metric than JIT for many reasons (which for brevity I will not explain here). Monitoring WIP enables a process manager to become more proactive because changes in WIP can signal a future problem with JIT – giving enough warning to do something.  However, although JIT and WIP are necessary they are not sufficient – we need a third piece of the jigsaw to allow us to design our process to deliver the JIT performance we want.  This third piece is called LIP (Load-In-Progress) and is the parameter needed to plan and schedule  the right capacity at the right place and the right time to achieve the required WIP and JIT.  Together these three pieces provide the stepping stones on the path to Productivity Improvement Planning (PIP) that is the combination of QI (Quality Improvement) and CI (Cost Improvement).

So if we want our PIP then we need to know our LIP and WIP to get the JIT.  Reddit? Geddit?