Tuesday, October 7, 2008

How Ignorance Can Lead to Success

How Ignorance Can Lead to Success

By Marc and Angel: Hack Life

What you don’t know just might help you. Being unaware of presently accepted, communal beliefs can put you a step ahead of the herd. It’s like an artist building a masterpiece from a blank canvas. Sometimes it’s better to begin from a clean slate, to create your own way without polluting your mind with external inputs. Here are a couple examples:

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

The Route Less Traveled

In the late 1990’s my father got an itch to start investing. He had a decent sum of cash sitting in a savings account and decided it was time to put his money to work. The savings account returned about 1.5% a year, so any return above that would be a successful investment.

At the time, the dot com boom was at its inception and everyone was pumping money into tech stocks. My father didn’t fully understand the stock market and its inherent risks, so instead of investing in tech stocks, he purchased 15 acres of land in an upcoming neighborhood near Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. He never lost a dime when the dot com bubble busted, and even after the recent downturn in the housing market, his property is currently worth 8 times what he paid for it.

She Didn’t Know Any Better

About a year ago a friend of mine wrote an eBook and put it up for sale on her blog. I jokingly pointed out to her that all of the information in the eBook was readily available on other blogs/websites for free and indexed correctly by Google. She was disappointed when I mentioned this, but she left her eBook up for sale anyway. We both assumed it wouldn’t sell. We were wrong. The eBook has sold to the sum of nearly $4K since last summer.

The Lessons

These two stories carry two significant lessons:

  • The popular way of doing things is not always the best way.
  • Sometimes taking action based on ignorance beats taking no action at all.

Knowledge is important. But occasionally what we know (or what we think we know) hinders our ability to take action and make sound judgments. We become consumed with commonly accepted practices and thus fail to innovate. We follow the herd instead of thinking for ourselves.

Doing things the same way they’ve always been done is a sure way to never get ahead. Just because other people have done things a certain way doesn’t make it right. Quite often you will find the exact opposite to be true.

Being ignorant of popular opinion is a good mindset to be in. It allows you to form your own opinions based on firsthand experience. It gives you the freedom to think and to innovate. Oddly enough, the right kind of ignorance can give you the power to succeed.