Proud Ignorance

The other day when I wrote about how the quantitatively inclined may not be meant to be people persons I hadn’t considered the possibility that not being so might be a source of pride.  Peter F. Drucker said:

Far too many people–especially people with great expertise in one area–are contemptuous of knowledge in other areas…. First-rate engineers, for instance, tend to take pride in not knowing anything about people…. Human Resources professionals, by contrast, often pride themselves on their ignorance of elementary accounting or of quantitative methods altogether.

That’s all too familiar.  This afternoon I had a disheartening conversation with a friend of mine who works with a team of statisticians data grinders.  He said that they would crunch the numbers exactly as directed, no engagement, no reasoning, no questions asked.   That really bothered him and for good reason; without a correct understanding of the nature of the problem or the structure of the data important results might be missed.  I can’t stress enough how important it is for the statistician to engage in the overall problem solving efforts as part of team not a part of the computer.

Ignorance is only useful if used for discovery, and it cannot be properly leveraged if one is proud of it.

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