from News August 14, 2019

Ignorant Intelligence

by Rich Kizer & Georganne Bender, professional speakers, retail strategists, authors and consultants.  KIZER & BENDER’s observations are widely featured in national newspapers, national and international industry and consumer publications, and on radio and television programs across the U.S. You can learn more at

The Wright brothers didn’t take no for an answer; the year was 1903 and they were full of big ideas. They also had the ability to ignore the common belief about man would never be able to fly; lead them to try radical new ideas. We all know what happened: The Wright brothers took to the sky and the rest is history. They flew in the face of all the negative beliefs swirling around them. Orville and Wilbur Wright demonstrated what we refer to as “Ignorant Intelligence” or i2.

Fast forward to late in the 20th Century, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where our friend Nick has just landed a job selling vacuum cleaners door-to-door. Starting his new career, Nick went through the same sales training exercises and activities that every new salesperson encounters before being set lose to sell on their own. In Nick’s case, the last two days of his training involved being sent to a test neighborhood near the home office to practice his door-to-door techniques. Now, it’s important to note that because every sales trainee is sent to this very neighborhood and they leave the office with a word of warning: NO ONE will buy a vacuum cleaner from you, so just practice greeting customers and getting your foot in the door. One problem: They forgot to tell this to Nick.

So Nick hit the streets not knowing he wouldn’t be able to sell a vacuum cleaner in this neighborhood if his life depended on it. He didn’t know it was a cold market, so he unleashed everything he learned in sales training. And sell he did, bringing in a record number of sales.

There’s power in i2.

The Wright Brothers and Nick the Vacuum Cleaner Sales Trainee had in one thing in common: They were smart men who just didn’t know they weren’t supposed to be able to do what they did. They didn’t let history or what they were told they couldn’t do dictate their actions. And neither can you.  Never, ever let assumptions or people who say “That can’t be done” stop you from trying new and innovating things for your life and your business.

We came upon our Ignorant Intelligence theory during a meeting of minds during a brainstorming meeting in our office. The goal was to find a solution to a client’s problem; his company was in tough situation that required a strategy and solution path that could be implemented right now. So we turned off the phones, grabbed a flip chart, rolled up our sleeves and got to work. We brainstormed and brainstormed and brainstormed. After two days of throwing around strategies and tactics we still didn’t have anything we felt confident enough about to present to our client. Oh, we had plenty of ideas; some off the wall, and some tried and true, but we knew this situation required something completely new and different.

On day three we put our heads together again, only this time we asked a few local entrepreneurs, people we trust but have no particular knowledge of our client’s industry, for help. After listing all of the issues, we suggested they take thirty minutes alone to think about what we shared before we reconvened our brainstorming session.

You know the rules of brainstorming, right? No one gets to say, “That’s a stupid idea” even if it is a stupid idea, because what one person thinks is crazy just might lead to an incredible idea by someone else.

When we re-grouped around our conference table we asked each person to share what they came up with. After just 20 minutes the room was buzzing with fresh ideas, and implementation strategies were bouncing off the walls. We were all so excited that our downstairs neighbor came up to see what all the commotion was about.

The solutions that came from this brainstorming session surprised us; they certainly didn’t fit the paradigms of successful strategies we’d seen and used in that industry before, but that’s the point.

Here’s the deal: People from outside your inner circle have an uncanny ability to look at your business and make suggestions with fresh eyes. When an outsider offers suggestions it’s too easy to think, “Yeah, okay. What do you know about my business?” Well, they know enough not to say, “We tried that before and it didn’t work.” And you need to be smart enough to take their ideas and tweak them until you reach your desired outcome.

That’s what we did. We merged the strategies our partners shared with ours, tweaking as we went along. Then we did a few test implementations to see what would happen and the strategies worked. We knew now what to suggest to our client and how to present it.
Two weeks later we met with our client to present the tweaked ideas. It was tense at first, as our client’s team mulled over the strategies we shared, then the lights started to come on as one person after another said, “Why didn’t we think of that?” and “That makes perfect sense, how did we miss it?” They thought we were brilliant; the strategies certainly were. There’s genius in understanding the value of intelligent ignorance and how can work to your advantage.

So, what’s the take-away? Easy! Don’t let past history dictate your actions or compromise your decisions. Ask for help. Sometimes those with the least amount of experience can see the path to success more clearly than you can. Know that it’s okay to ask for help, and it’s okay to be intelligently ignorant.

Get a bigger table for your lunch room because it will increase your team’s involvement and productivity. Schedule monthly brainstorming sessions to talk about what’s going on in the store, especially about what’s stale and how you might do ____ better. Encourage everyone to come to the meeting with new, fresh, innovative and exciting ideas to solve your problems. Miracles can happen - you’ll begin to hear problem solving ideas that we bet you haven’t heard before. And maybe even a few opportunities that you didn’t know were there.
The next time you’re planning an in-store event or promotion, a major change in layout, or are simply looking for new ways to attract customers unleash the power of i2. Ignore what you know and brainstorm fresh ideas with your team – and maybe even a few core customers or trusted local retail partners.

There’s a new phrase bouncing around our office these days, and a new i2 sign that adorns our conference room wall. Intelligent Ignorance can work for you, too. Give it a try!