Tag Archives: Ignorance

Why Leaders Cannot Be Indifferent to the Truth: Part 1—You are NOT Entitled to Your Opinion

Remember that CEO I wrote about last month whose brilliant new project was derailed because she did not provide context? There was one more interaction from her launch party that bothered me. When she was defending the company changes via her charts, graphs and other quantifiable measures, an employee responded with a dismissive, “Well, I’m entitled to my opinion.” Is this a valid response or are we enabling ignorance? <spoiler alert: the answer is #2>

Let’s begin with the understanding that “I’m entitled to my opinion” is a logical fallacy. An opinion is a judgment that inherently involves a degree of uncertainty; therefore, using it as a defense only works in select situations. For instance, you can be entitled to your opinion if we’re discussing the latest Star Wars movie. Sure, critics, friends, and sheer sensibility will tell you it’s a fantastic flick, but there is no “right” answer about such a subjective thought.

You cannot, however, harbor a valid opinion when there is a provable, objective, verifiable fact contradicting your inaccurate thoughts. Going back to our Star Wars example, regardless of whether you enjoyed it, which you did, your opinion is irrelevant when discussing whether is was profitable. A simple internet search will tell you that this is a fact. As a result, you are not “entitled” to think otherwise.

Sometimes we can disagree with the facts.—Sean Spicer, White House Press Secretary

So this leads to the next point—what if you don’t know the truth? Guess what, you still aren’t entitled to your opinion. A factually-based question demands a factually-based answer. You’re entitled to learn the truth. You’re entitled to speak with an expert. You’re entitled to pick up your smartphone and look it up. But you are not entitled to purposely remain ignorant.

When you allow your team the option of being entitled to their opinions, you are propagating a culture where thinking is optional, where individuals can reject whatever facts they do not find to be convenient or beneficial. As Deakin University philosophy professor Patrick Stokes said in a recent interview, “the problem with ‘I’m entitled to my opinion’ is that, all too often, it’s used to shelter beliefs that should have been abandoned. It becomes shorthand for ‘I can say or think whatever I like’ and, by extension, continuing to argue is somehow disrespectful.”

Permitting your team to be entitled to their opinion creates a false equivalence between experts and non-experts, the enlightened and the naïve. In Part 2 of this series, we’ll discuss what happens when a false opinion is turned into an “alternative fact” and how that affects your organization.


The Why Leaders Cannot Be Indifferent to the Truth series:

Part 1—You are NOT Entitled to Your Opinion

Part 2—The Destructive Nature of Alternative Facts (i.e. Lies)

Part 3—Deceiving with Fact-based Lies

Part 4— 10 Ways to Create a Culture of Trust

Should We Limit Power to Those in the Know? Democracy Through Epistocracy

voting-jfkIn this endless political season, I’m amazed by the number of people who have no idea what they are talking about. I am not referring to the individuals who disagree with me; I’m talking about those who have no grasp of basic facts. They are not dumb (although I wouldn’t necessarily call them smart, either). No, they are uninformed, without a core understanding of civics, U.S. history, or how the country operates. That’s why I’d like to propose an alternative form of democracy, epistocracy.

Epistocracy is similar to a typical democracy. Both are a representative form of government with limits on power, checks and balances, elected officials, and judicial oversight. The difference is that while democracies allow every citizen an equal right to vote, epistocracies dole out these rights based on knowledge, competence, and/or expertise.

I’m tired of ignorance held up as inspiration, where vicious anti-intellectualism is considered a positive trait, and where uninformed opinion is displayed as fact.―Philip Plait, author of Bad Astronomy

The intent of an epistocracy is not to limit power to a selected few, but to ensure that elected officials are chosen by well-informed, “qualified” citizens. As a result, we can avoid being subjected to the judgments of those who do not comprehend the issues. The challenge is in how we define “qualified.”

There are many ways to determine whether someone is properly informed to be eligible to vote. Some have suggested requiring people to pass the citizenship test when registering to vote. Others allow everyone to vote, but for your vote to count, you must correctly answer a few simple questions that pertain to the issues and candidates on the ballot.

If either of these options were to be chosen, the next challenge is deciding who will draft the qualifying questions. Both parties are likely to exert their influence in a way that supports their partisan leanings. Plus, the questions need to be written in a way that avoids preferential treatment based on education or socio-economic status.

If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you’re mis-informed.—Mark Twain

If enacting an epistocracy sounds absurd, you should consider that you are already utilizing some of its concepts in your workplace. As I’ve previously written, your organization is not a democracy, but you are “qualifying” the people who work there. Interviews, resumes, assessments, background screenings, reference checks, etc. are all intended to help you choose employees who possess the knowledge, competence, and expertise to work in your hallowed halls.

Many pundits and political candidates have suggested that government run more like a business. If this is the case, don’t we need a selection process to determine who can participate? Companies employ litmus tests to ensure their decision makers are informed. Why should participating in our government require any less effort?