Keep Wonder Alive, Manifesto #idontknow

MANIFESTO Keep Wonder Alive In the next 10 years through to 2024, 1 Billion jobs will be taken over by machines. Google cars will replace taxis. IBM’s Watson will replace customer service staff. We cannot out-reason the machines. We must change the way we teach, the way we parent and the role of “I don’t know” in our society. I ask for your help. I will ask for your commitment not to say "I know", when you don't. I will ask you to use "I don't know" more. Let's let our connected intuition have the space it needs to work as it was originally designed.. CONOR NEILL Teacher, Thinker and Tinkerer A Publication of CN Make the “I don’t know” Commitment MOVING PEOPLE TO ACTION


This is a short manifesto about my change as a teacher, away from transfer of knowledge and tools… and towards… something deeper. In the spirit of changing myself for the better (and becoming a better father to my daughter), I wrote a short manifesto. In the next 10 years through to 2024, 1 Billion jobs will be taken over by machines. Google cars will replace taxis. IBM’s Watson will replace customer service staff. We cannot out-reason the machines. We must change the way we teach, the way we parent and the role of “I don’t know” in our society. I ask for your help. I will ask for your commitment not to say "I know", when you don't. I will ask you to use "I don't know" more. Let's let our connected intuition have the space it needs to work as it was originally designed. Would love your reflections as a Maker of Change! Best Conor

Transcript of Keep Wonder Alive, Manifesto #idontknow

Page 1: Keep Wonder Alive, Manifesto #idontknow


Keep Wonder Alive

In the next 10 years through to 2024, 1 Billion jobs will be taken over by machines. Google cars will replace

taxis. IBM’s Watson will replace customer service staff. We cannot out-reason the machines.

!We must change the way we teach, the way we parent

and the role of “I don’t know” in our society. !

I ask for your help. I will ask for your commitment not to say "I know", when you don't. I will ask you to use "I

don't know" more. Let's let our connected intuition have the space it needs to work as it was originally designed..

CONOR NEILL– Teacher, Thinker and Tinkerer –

A Publication ofCN

Make the “I don’t know” Commitment


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What’s in the Tin?We have seven chapters here in this little book about Keeping Wonder Alive. I have called them: !1.“Daddy, what are stars?” !

2.To know or to “know” !

3.Finding the Final Cause !

4.Teaching in the Google Century !

5.Better Wonder, Better Questions !

6.Sign the “I don’t know” Commitment !

7.[More about Conor Neill]

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1“Daddy, what are stars?”

“ Here’s a little mote of wisdom: Not everyone who claims to be an expert, is indeed an expert. In fact, anyone claiming to be an expert on anything, in my opinion, should immediately be viewed with suspicion, or be able to produce a PhD Diploma on the subject he or she is professing to be expert in.

”Chris A. Jackson

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“Daddy, what are stars?”

Last night I fell asleep up on my rooftop in a hammock with my 6 year old daughter. As we lay there swinging she looked up into the night sky and turned to me to ask "Daddy, what are stars?"

!I looked to her face and saw that she wasn't asking for one of my silly stories, she really wanted to know.

!I took a breath and began "Stars are giant balls of gases that are collapsing in on themselves because of the force of gravity. The light we see is the result of the atoms and molecules splitting and combining and releasing massive energy that we see as light. The stars are so far away that the light we are seeing has travelled for millions of years to reach us now. This light we see as a star was made millions of years ago".

!She looked at me with a look that said "where did you get that story from?". I paused. She was right. I have never touched a star, I have never seen the fusion reactions at first hand. I believe this because it was told to me in school. I believe it because it makes sense to me with what I understand of chemistry and physics. I believe it because it is a good answer to the question

Curiosity, Wonder and Awe

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Looking up at Stars, Photo Credit: Skiwalker79 via Flickr

!"what is the process by which stars shine?" It answers one part of what stars are.

!However, it is an answer that fails to address the wonder of this universe. It tries to capture an easy, shrink-wrapped, easy explanation. It closes down wonder. It allows me to go back indoors to the TV and to my microwave dinner and forget about the amazing universe in which we live.

!The Victorians used to close the curtains of their train carriages when they crossed the Alps. They hated the way the giant mountains made them feel so small and helpless.

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“ There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle

”Albert Einstein

My answer to my daughter was closing the curtains of my train carriage. Instead of allowing myself to be open to the mountains of knowledge that I do not know, I packaged up stars into a simple paragraph of cause-effect.

!It is ok to not know. It is human to appreciate mystery. In the words of Albert Einstein: "There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

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2Knowing and “Knowing”

“ You can learn the name of a bird in all the human languages: in English, in Spanish, in Portuguese, in Japanese, in Chinese… and when you are finished with all that… you’ll know absolutely nothing about the bird… you only know about humans in different places and what they call the bird.

”Richard Feynman

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Staring at Fire, Photo Credit: Mr Theklan via Flickr

!Understanding the process of combustion is not the same as starring in awe at the flames that have attracted so many generations of our ancestors. How many generations since time began have sat around a fire, have shared stories, have allowed the hypnotic flickering flames to inspire dreams and set imagination loose on adventure. The joy is in the not trying to understand, in just being together in the flickering light and warming glow.

!We live in an era where wonder is being killed (and it is me, her father, that is doing the killing)

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Reason has limits

The menu in a great restaurant describes the food, but it does not replace the food. We don’t go to Ferran Adria’s restaurant El Bulli to look at the menu, we go to experience the food, the service, the feeling of really being there.

!I have been to Rome. If you ask me about Rome, I can describe my experience. I can even lend you the lonely planet guidebook, but this can and will never replace the experience of being in Rome. A school research project on Roman history can never replace the human experience of standing in the summer heat and staring in awe at the two thousand year old Forum Romana, the taste of gelato in Plaza Narbone, the noise of modern cars passing right in front of the great ancient Colosseum.

!I want to understand everything, and I lose the possibility of awe of anything. I want to control, not live in harmony. I want to own, and not share, not trust.

!I can understand so many things with my reasoning, I habitually am drawn to apply the same reasoning to everything.

!This is killing wonder. This is killing awe.

To know the name of a bird is not to know anything about the bird

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Aristotle’s 4 Causes: Material, Formal, Efficient & Final

My friend Raul said that you cannot "understand" a poem, you cannot dissect a poem, you cannot cut it up into atomic elements and solve the "maths" of poetry. We can "feel" a poem, the whole poem in its entirety.

!Aristotle described the 4 causes as the material, formal, efficient and final.

The material cause is the physical property that make the thing exist in the first place; the table is made of wood, the properties of wood support weight and feel heavy. The formal cause is the rule that governs the physical properties; the table stays on the floor because of the force of gravity. The efficient cause - the means by which the object came into being; Van Gogh's sunflowers exists because he sat down and painted it. The final cause - the purpose of the object; why did Van Gogh paint it? What does it say to me? What does it mean?

The Final Cause has no outside answer, it only has my interpreted answer

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Mathematics, Photo Credit: World Bank via Flickr

!Reason and rationality have given us so much. They have cured the world of smallpox, of plague, of polio. They have given us tools to alleviate so much suffering. Money and trade has connected the world. Modern farming, food distribution, refrigeration mean that we don't need to be hungry. Industrial production has given us cars, planes, houses for all. It has reduced disease, it has reduced hunger, it has made transport easier.

!The danger is that purpose and meaning is not there. I can't find meaning in rational thought. I can't find my way to faith through a process of scientific doubt.

!The question about meaning in life is not one that can be addressed by seeking material, formal or efficient cause; it is the final cause. .

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3Finding the Final Cause

“ I don't believe people are looking for the meaning of life as much as they are looking for the experience of being alive.

”Joseph Campbell

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Finding the Final Cause

There are two worlds in which we live. There is the world that I share with you, and billions more. This is the world of planes and cars and trees and houses and jobs and money. This world has benefitted greatly from reason, it has reduced so much suffering from hunger and cold. Good reason can allow disagreement to be resolved through discussion and logic rather than guns and fists.

!There is another world. This is a world that is only mine, it is only here while I am here and it will disappear forever when I die. This is the world of my dreams and my inner voice and my belief and my doubt.

!These two worlds match the two life journeys described by Joseph Campbell: the right hand path and the hero journey.

!The Right Hand Path: Finding my role in Society The right hand path is the journey of discovering my role in society. This is the myth of King Arthur. He is a young boy wandering and exploring and then he pulls the sword from the stone and becomes King. The small boy is gone, his life purpose becomes King of the realm. He has found and accepted the role society needs him to play.

Where to Begin Seeking the Final Cause

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Journey, Photo Credit: h.koppdelaney via Flickr

!The Hero Journey: Finding myself, my meaning The hero journey is a more lonely journey. It is a journey away from society and the world outside, the status quo of the world as it is today. It is a journey inwards, into my sense of self; Freud's id, ego and super ego; or Jung's ego, self and shadow. It is a journey through self doubt, accepting and quieting the inner voice of criticism that says I am not enough.

The Hero’s JourneyWhere to Begin Seeking the Final Cause

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Entry to the Hero’s JourneyHow do I begin the hero journey? There are three important access points onto this inner journey of discovery.

1. Public speaking is a powerful outer journey path that creates a search inside myself. Each speech that I give pushes me to search inside myself for why a topic is important to me, what made it important to me, who shaped my views and values on this topic. In learning to share my point of view with others, I am really learning to discover what it means to me. (Learn more about Public Speaking)

2. Art is another entrance point to the hero journey. James Joyce describes two types of art: "Proper" and "Improper" art. Proper art is static. It holds the observer in a moment of awe and wonder, a temporary lifting of the analytical tools of our senses (body) and our thinking (mind).

!The evolutionary origins of our senses, eyes, ears, nose were to improve our ability to find stuff to eat (desire) and avoid being eaten (fear). Improper art plays on these features of the senses: an arousal of desire or fear. Proper art bypasses these origins of the senses and speaks direct to the self inside. It creates a temporary stay of fear and desire leaving me in a moment where I am just with my self. The ego is gone for a brief instant. I get to glimpse my true self uncluttered and unfiltered by the fear and desire drives of ego.

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We need both journeys

3. Stories Listening to great stories, well told is

another entrance point onto the hero journey. Exploration of myths and the stories that have survived centuries upon centuries give another access point to the inner journey, to helping us understand that our inner experience is special but it is not unique; we are not the first to have felt this way. (Learn more about Stories)

!!!A full human life needs both journeys. Outer world material and status success without an integration with my inner world, my sense of purpose, my identity will create enormous emotional stress. It will lead me to apathy, to a feeling of emptiness; it will lead me to depression.

To know the name of a bird is not to know anything about the bird

“ If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales. ”Albert Einstein

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Sacred Family Cathedral, Photo Credit: Molinary via Flickr

!It is not enough to build great cathedrals, I must explore why I am involved in the process. I must explore my experience of the day to day construction. In the absence of this exploration, I am a day labourer working on a building; a mercenary. Anything I “do to get” - whether it is “do to get” money, status or fame - will be empty. It can not be the end point. In the presence of this exploration, I am a full part of the building of an important cathedral.

Anything that I do with an attitude of “do to get” will never become meaningful in itself

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4Teaching in the Google Century

“ How often people speak of art and science as though they were two entirely different things, with no interconnection. An artist is emotional, they think, and uses only his intuition; he sees all at once and has no need of reason. A scientist is cold, they think, and uses only his reason; he argues carefully step by step, and needs no imagination. That is all wrong. The true artist is quite rational as well as imaginative and knows what he is doing; if he does not, his art suffers. The true scientist is quite imaginative as well as rational, and sometimes leaps to solutions where reason can follow only slowly; if he does not, his science suffers. ”Isaac Asimov

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Not the End of Reason

I am not saying that rational materialism has no place. It is a powerful tool. A hammer is a powerful tool. A hammer used on a nail is a wonderful use. A hammer used on an itchy finger is not a wonderful use. "Doubt everything" is great in mathematics, in supply chain, in factory optimization. In these places it is a hammer on a nail. There are places where it is the wrong tool. You can use a hammer on an itchy finger; the problem is you won't have any finger when you have removed the itch.

!We have spent a century improving our survival rate. Babies born today will live to old age. However, mere survival is not the final end of a well-used human life. The obituary does not say "he survived to the bitter end". A good use is to go beyond survive and to thrive.

!The experience of being alive is to be held in awe and wonder at the majesty of it all and let go of the need to cut it up and understand it, control it, tame it, own it.

“ Poets say science takes away from the beauty of the stars - mere globs of gas atoms. I, too, can see the stars on a desert night, and feel them. But do I see less or more?

”Nobel Physicist, Richard Feynman

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“ If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea. ”author of the Little Prince, Antoine de St Exubery

Four years ago I changed how I teach. I moved away from transmitting knowledge and tools, and towards Antoine de St Exubery’s call “teach them to long for the immensity of the sea”.

!We are alive now in a world of mobile google. Every smartphone has access to every word ever written and every video ever recorded. A child who wants to know can know right now. If that child has an interest in the Taj Mahal, he can find instantly what the Taj Mahal looks like (google image search); when, why and how it was built (wikipedia); where it is (google maps); they can even find who is there right now (foursquare or Facebook places). If a child wants to find out something and believes it is important - they will find it.

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What to Teach?What is the job description of teacher in a world where every piece of human knowledge is available via a google search, every video through youtube?

!How about this:?

•Enjoy awe.

•Amplify wonder.

•Play with dreams.

!!What makes us different from monkeys, from apes, from lizards? What makes us different from the machines that we are building? What will keep humans ahead of the robots?

What should we learn to keep us safe from robots and machines?

Childhood, Photo Credit: Molinary via Flickr

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I have made a 180 degree turn away from a focus on knowledge, tools and examples over to a focus on curiosity: I want my students to see that it is possible and to see that it matters. !!!!!!Welcome to the world of mobile google: Every smartphone has access to every word ever written and every video ever recorded. A child who wants to know can know right now. What is there to teach a child who can know everything? What is there to teach an employee with all the world's information at the tip of a finger?

!The internet is a giant database of material, formal and efficient causes. However, the final cause - what it means - can't just be looked up online. A person must find out for themselves.

!This is not a call to stop the study of mathematics and physics, of biology and chemistry, of logic and reason. This is a call to hold ourselves open to the two worlds, the two life journeys, the seeking to understand in parallel with the ability to stand and stare and be amazed by the amazing complex simple majesty of the universe.

If I want to know, I willWe live in the google-wikipedia ubiquitous world

now, all human knowledge is right here in my hands

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The 3 Parts of Capability

Harvard Professor, Clayton Christensen in his recent book “How will you measure your life?” speaks of a capability being made up of 3 elements: resources, processes and prioritization.

!If my daughter is to do something of value she needs all three.

!Imagine she has a computer (a resource). Imagine she also has the skill of programming, or of using photoshop to design objects (a process). She has the potential to create, but only if the third element comes together - prioritization. !What does she do in her discretionary time? Does she ask “what could I do with this? I wonder what I could create? If I just change this small element, how might it look?”. This is prioritization. A talent is nothing without the repeated decision to do the practice, to explore the talent, to develop.

Knowing What and How is never Enough, Knowing Why Completes the Capability

Capability = Why + How + Resources

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“ Like employees, children build self-esteem by doing things that are hard and learning what works.”

”Clayton Christensen

Prioritisation is the beginning of discipline rather than obedience. Obedience allows me to follow your orders. I can make many people be an extension of me if I can get their obedience. However, this group will never be more than an extension of my mind.

!Discipline allied to wonder and curiosity, now we multiply the potential of my mind. Those around me no longer delegate their thinking to my mind, they begin to apply their own intelligence. True freedom can only exist in a world where discipline is widespread.

Discipline + WonderWonder combined with Discipline, we

multiply the human potential

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5Better Wonder, Better Questions Better Questions, Better Science

“ The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift. We will not solve the problems of the world from the same level of thinking we were at when we created them. More than anything else, this new century demands new thinking: We must change our materially based analyses of the world around us to include broader, more multidimensional perspectives.

”Albert Einstein

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“ "logic proves but intuition discovers” ”Henri Poincare

The more we know, the better questions we can ask of what we do not yet know. This is what the great scientists have always had: better ignorance. A more informed, rounded, clearer quality of ignorance that leads to deeper questions that leads to deeper, better, more awe inspiring wonder.

!This then should be the aim of teachers. We know a lot that must be shared with the next generation. However, we know so little of what is possible to wonder about, and it is the open spaces that are worthy of expiration, are intense sources of awe-inspiring wonder that we really want our children to ask better questions of. This is the challenge of teachers today. Share what we know while never, ever giving the sense that we will ever reach the end of the process of exploration and discovery. We didn't get to the moon only because we know about rockets, we got to the moon because so many generations of humans have wondered and dreamed about it.

Better Wonder, Better QuestionsThe more we know, the better questions we can ask of what we do not yet know.

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2001 A Space Odyssey, Photo Credit: Stanley Kubrick, Film

!Neil Gaiman speaks of a visit to China in 2007 for the first Science Fiction convention in that country. At a break, he found himself next to a very senior member of the Chinese Communist Party - and he asked:

!“why are you opening up Science Fiction before other things?”

!The senior party figure said: “It's simple: The Chinese were brilliant at making things if other people brought them the plans. But they did not innovate and they did not invent. They did not imagine. So they sent a delegation to the US, to Apple, to Microsoft, to Google, and they asked the people there who were inventing the future about themselves: and they found that all of them had read science fiction when they were boys or girls."

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“ It is in the admission of ignorance and the admission of uncertainty that there is a hope for the continuous motion of human beings in some direction that doesn't get confined, permanently blocked, as it has so many times before in various periods in the history of man. ”Richard Feynman

How do we re-find wonder without losing the great gifts of rational thought? We need wonder, mystery and awe. How do we enjoy wonder and awe without creating silos of fundamentalists?

!We don't need more fundamentalism, resistance to change and avoidance of diversity. We do need a greater willingness to allow mystery to be wonderful in and of itself.

!I believe the two can co-exist. I believe they begin with a new-found respect for the answer: “I don’t know”.

Begin: “I don’t know”

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6The “I don’t know” Commitment

“ Daddy, what are stars? ”Alexandra Neill, 6 years old

“ I don’t know. What do you think? … They are beautiful. I do know that millions of children have asked this question you just asked. … I do know that this is how all the great scientists started... ”Conor Neill, slightly wiser now & committed to say “I don’t know” when he doesn’t know something

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“ ”Daddy, what are stars?”

”Alexandra Neill, 6 years old

How can I answer my daughter's question? What are stars?

!The material and formal causes are addressed by my original answer.

!The efficient and the final cause are awesome, wonderful mystery. It is ok to not know. It is human to pause and look with my daughter and say "I don't fully know. They are beautiful. I don't know why they are there. I don't know how they got there. I do know that the light is from fire. I do know that they are far away. I do know that our ancestors for thousands of years have looked up in the night sky just like you and me today and wondered. I do know that millions of children have asked just this question you asked tonight. This is how all the great scientists started."

Begin:“I don’t know”Lets stop making others feel smaller by giving big, complicated answers

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I [ ___________] commit to use the phrase “I don’t know” as often as possible, especially to children who ask interesting questions. I commit to help others use the phrase when they are at risk of claiming to know, when they don’t really know. I commit to ignore self-proclaimed experts until they can demonstrate that they have done more than read a book on the subject. I commit to share this manifesto widely and allow wonder to live freely again. I sign now as my commitment to “I don’t know”.


Better Questions = Better Science


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Star Photo Credit: Skiwalker79 Fire Photo Credit: Mr. Theklan Maths Photo Credit: World Bank Photo Journey Photo Credit: h.koppdelaney Cathedral Photo Credit: Molinary Childhood Photo Credit: h.koppdelaney

Thanks to these photographers for allowing Creative Commons usage of their good works

Thanks to these wise people for saying it in words better than I could

For Everything Else including how to share, where it came from, who I am:

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The Author

Conor Neill

Conor is a man on a Rhetorical Journey*. !Conor is a teacher, serial entrepreneur and keynote speaker. He teaches Leadership Communication at IESE Business School, ranked #1 in the World by FT in 2012. !Conor has founded 4 companies, raising capital, hiring teams and reaching over �€10M in sales. He is Past-European Area Director for Entrepreneurs’ Organization, the world’s leading community of entrepreneurs. !PS What is a Rhetorical Journey? *Click here

A Publication of


Teacher, Thinker & Tinkerer


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"I don't know" is not an excuse to not seek to discover, it is only an opening up to greater wisdom. !If your second, third and fourth answers are also "I don't know" then you might have an ignorance problem. This might be ok, but it could be serious. !Do you Have an Ignorance Problem? There are two types of ignorance: Deliberate Ignorance and Understandable Ignorance. !

Understandable Ignorance A non-financial expert is not expected to know how to calculate discounted cash flow valuations for publicly listed firms. A European is not expected to know how baseball scoring works. A non-programmer is not expected to understand the syntax of C++ or php code. These are cases of Understandable Ignorance. !Deliberate Ignorance If you work in marketing, you must know the basics. If you work in finance, there are some basics that you must know. If you are a programmer you must understand code syntax, optimal code, unit test, system test. If you manage people, there are some lessons you owe it to your team to know. !As Seth Godin says “People have come before us, failed, learned, written it down. Scientists have figured out what works, and proven it. Economists have gained significant understanding about the long-term impacts of short-term decisions. And historians have seen it all before.” !It is not a company’s responsibility to ensure that you are aware of the basic concepts and important developments in your field. It is your own. (original source:

An extra note on Deliberate Ignorance vs Intuition