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Deliberate Ignorance Can Be a Winning Tactic

  • The Find: Withholding information from others -- and yourself -- can be an effective means of achieving key goals.
  • The Source: "Influence Through Ignorance" in the current edition of The RAND Journal of Economics.
The Takeaway: The classic economic model says that knowing more than everyone else is the key to successfully influencing people. Not always, say economists Isabelle Brocas and Juan D. Carrillo of USC.

The researchers offer plenty of real-world examples of the phenomenon: A drug company releasing only preliminary, positive trials of a new drug and not electing to investigate in more depth, or the chairperson of a committee closing the discussion of a contentious issue just when sentiment seems to be tipping in the desired direction. The key to success with the strategy is that "the party manipulating the flow of information must deliberately choose to remain uninformed as well." Fail to do this, and you might find yourself in Merck's shoes.

Deliberate ignorance isn't the most new-fangled strategy, nor is it the most ethical one. But an explicit understanding of the idea could help you defend against being tactically left in the dark.