The Point of Maximum Ignorance: Guest Post by Colleen Reidelbach


I have one more guest post that came in at the tail end of my maternity leave.

I read Colleen’s post a few weeks ago and the opening paragraph really stuck with me.  Every year I reflect on the prior year and get slightly embarrassed by what I didn’t know. I view this as a positive thing. It means that I’m immersing myself in situations where I have the chance to grow and learn.  I hope this never changes.

– Danielle

Topic of the Week: Point of Maximum Ignorance

About a year ago, I learned a phrase coined by Carl Erickson that simultaneously insulted and energized me. He wrote that, today, you and I are all at the “Point of Maximum  Ignorance” about just about everything. We are never going to know any less than we do today; we are only going to learn more from here on out.

By recognizing this at Acklen Avenue, we are far more effective in planning application development projects with our partners, but this concept applies whatever your business or product.

The reality of it might make you feel like you’re having that nightmare where you are sitting in school and realize the final exam is today. If you’re reading this, you likely have to make massive-scale decisions from a place of limited insight.

The good news: acknowledging your current Point of Maximum Ignorance can deeply reduce the risk and cost of delay inherent to product development. Here’s what I see from the teams executing most effectively.

Invest in the real world – There have been many an evening when I looked outside at the golden evening sun and thought, How great would it be to go enjoy my patio from a chic, comfy chair. Two years after we moved in, we still had no furniture outside. But I didn’t really know how often we would use it, until we had the real option to.

My solution: a couple of inexpensive but quite comfortable chairs that, sure enough, have not seen a lot of traffic (at least in the summer heat). Nice patio furniture isn’t the priority that I wanted it to be. That $34 spent on learning saved me hundreds, at least for the time being. Especially when you’re innovating, essentially sailing in uncharted waters, there is no learning as valuable as getting something real into humans’ hands. It’s the only way to separate your users’ aspirational guesses at their behavior from the reality.

Learn quickly – The “cost of delay” for a luxurious patio furniture set is uninteresting at best, so the metaphor become a little thin here. But in business, cost of delay kills. “Planning” gives a false sense of productivity, even comfort and security. Meanwhile, you’re missing opportunity to learn and often, to capture revenue, stay ahead of competition, and build customer loyalty.

But Colleen, what if we’re wrong about what we put out? Especially if you’re wrong! Give yourself the opportunity to learn that sooner rather than later.

Welcome change – The bad news is that you are at least a little bit wrong about your product. The good news is, so is everyone else.

A CTO I met was wrestling with the decision hire an Acklen Avenue team; his current team was failing badly. He told me, “If I give this project to you, I am going to have to cut my losses and admit that I made a mistake the first time.” He had two paths: continue to flail (what’s that definition of insanity?), or welcome the change and get it right.

Which choice would you want your team to make?

Build a culture that gives people permission to incorporate change when they advance beyond their previous point of maximum ignorance and learn something valuable. I’m sure I’m not shocking you by coming down to culture: To capture the benefits of lower risks and faster results, humans have to admit to their peers, supervisors, and reports that we don’t know it all.

It requires humility to say that our perspective is lesser than that of our wiser future selves, and leave room for learning.

But if you do it, you’ll give everyone else in the room permission to do it too. They will thank you, and your future, not-so-ignorant self will too.

I would love to hear how you have built similar concepts into your culture and/or execution strategy. I’m also up for talking tech any time: shoot me a note at

About the author

Danielle O'Rourke

Recovering Investor. Mom. Wife.

By Danielle O'Rourke

Danielle O'Rourke

Recovering Investor. Mom. Wife.

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