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New research explores self-inflicted ignorance

New article explores why knowledgeable people sometimes choose ignorance over the knowledge they have or know they could have.

Almost everyone agrees that gathering more and better information and knowledge is vital for individual well-being and societal advancement. Nevertheless, at the same time, sometimes knowledgeable people choose to ignore the knowledge that they have developed. As such, ignorance has become transformed from meaning a simple “lack of knowledge” to also meaning a willfully manufactured and manipulated blindness to already developed knowledge. If having more and better knowledge is preferable to being ignorant, then why do people fall prey to the tendency to ignore helpful knowledge?

New research, conducted in part at the House of Innovation, explores why knowledgeable people sometimes choose ignorance over the knowledge they have or know they could have. Relying on a case analysis method, this research explores how actors explain and justify, through the use of ignoring-rationales, why they ignore data they have produced.

This research reveals that generally, actors’ rationales concern perceptions of current arrangements, such as division of labor and professional boundaries. They also involve imaginings of the future, the actors’ emphasis on uncertainty, and the impossibility to know. Generally, fragmented accountability structures, laissez-faire professionalism, technical developments or uncertainties, and image or external admiration facilitate the rationales.

Thus, this research provides a multifaceted model of how the ignoring actors’ rationales, facilitated by contextual conditions, enable persistent acts of ignoring the content and dysfunction of collectively upheld systems.


Anna Essén
House of Innovation Stockholm School of Economics, Sweden

Morten Knudsen
Copenhagen Business School, Denmark

Mats Alvesson
Lund University, Sweden; University of Queensland, Australia and City; and University of London, UK

House of Innovation Innovation Article Research

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