“In this world, a person who won’t read has no advantage over one who can’t read.”

I was conducting a practice interview with a 23 year old postgraduate client. Interspersed with competency questions, I asked him about himself, I asked him about the unique qualities he would bring to the job and I asked him how people might characterise him. In his answers, it quickly became apparent that his sectoral knowledge was thin and his self knowledge was even thinner. And he kept droning on about his IQ!

He told me he was bright, intelligent, clever, sharp, a quick learner and possessed strong reasoning skills. A veritable walking Thesaurus this young man was! Tiring of this, I abruptly asked him if he was proud of his blue eyes.

“Are you proud of the fact that you have blue eyes?”
“No – why should I be?”
“Exactly! Well then stop harping on about how smart you are. (a) It’s nothing more than good genetic luck and (b) it’s not really any sort of distinguishing characteristic at this level. A high IQ is a minimum entry requirement here (he was going for a job in a major consulting firm). It’s presumed. Your smarts got your foot in the door – now what else ya got?”

His lip actually quivered …

I have no problem with stupid people. No rational person should. IQ is distributed across the population on a bell curve and if you are unlucky to be on the left side of the curve well then that’s just what it is … bad luck. However, I have a major problem with ignorance; because ignorance is a choice. In today’s world, with information falling from the sky like rain, you can’t expect to be taken seriously if you persist in carrying a big umbrella. As Frank Zappa so elegantly put it, “Stupidity has a certain charm. Ignorance does not.”

I watched an interesting example of this in action at a training course some years back. On the first exercise of a 6-day course, one participant in a break-out team suggested that the five team members should disclose the extent of their prep for the course (they were supposed to have done 30 hours of pre-work during the preceding month). The answers ranged from a particularly diligent team member who had completed all the exercises and reading twice, to another who had basically had a quick look at the materials on his flight to the course.

What fascinated me was that the person who was by his own admission least familiar with the material, still expected to have a full seat at the table and for his opinions on factual matters relating to pre-work that he hadn’t done to be taken on board! He was a smart, experienced guy; but this was very specific material and his IQ and track record were not going to paper over the cracks in his knowledge of it.

As the week went on and fatigue overtook all the participants, this clown, who patently did not know what he was talking about, became more and more irate when his contributions were gently dismissed by his team-mates.

Ignorance is a choice. And in today’s market, it’s a really dumb choice. Find time, make time and jealously guard the time you set aside to stay abreast of what is going on in your arena. Think about what 90 minutes a week of focused reading would do. There are so many tools you can use – try Instapaper for centrally bookmarking all those “I really must read that” articles; listen to Podcasts on your way to work two days a week; set up an A-list on Twitter for the big thinkers in your field and read those when you find yourself waiting for anything …