Friday, June 27, 2008

Lackadaisical Risks

"The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance - it is the illusion of
- Daniel J. Boorstin

Daniel J. Boorstin was a very learned man who did a lot of things in his ninety years. To me this is what is intriguing about him, or anyone - doing a lot of things that have common threads running throughout. Boorstin was a learner and did not shy away from things he had not done before. He was an American historian, professor, attorney, and prolific writer. Boorstin wrote more than 20 books, including a trilogy on the American experience and one on world intellectual history. In 1974 he won a Pulitzer prize in history. Boorstin also served as director of the National Museum of History and Technology of the Smithsonian and as Librarian of Congress.

There is a lot to be inspired by Boorstin and his life of perpetual learning but this bit is my favorite. When President Gerald Ford nominated Boorstin to be Librarian of Congress in 1974, the nomination was supported by the Authors League of America but opposed by the American Library Association because Boorstin "was not a library administrator". I love that because I get that all the time. Basically, the ALA said "we can't trust him because he is not one of us". One of us myopia - it's a disease. Of course, the nomination was approved by the Senate without debate.

The ALA back in 1974 when faced with a new leader from outside their ranks suffered from the illusion of knowledge. They assumed that to administrate a library you have to have risen from the ranks. Their illusion of knowledge created a trust barrier. The alternative analytical approach in this situation would have been to look at Boorstin's success in other areas and have deduced that the temperament, qualities, and skills that made him successful in those arenas were transferable to their playing field.

I think the illusion of knowledge occurs because we become complacent and comfortable with the status quo. We stop learning. We become lackadaisical in our work. Lackadaisical means we are without interest, vigor, or determination. We become listless and lethargic. Ignorance develops because literally knowledge passes us by when we stop reaching. Our knowledge becomes irrelevant, a mere illusion of knowledge. And, the result is that we analyze situations and make decisions with old knowledge such that new discovery is off limits to us. A leader who is lackadaisical risks steering his organization severely off course.

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