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Warum Naivität

31 August 2023


The other day, I got a laugh out of a meeting without intending to. It was because I was just showing naïveté, and I have to confess that it wasn’t the first time this has happened to me, nor will it be the last. Yes, I will consciously and even deliberately be naïve again in the future.
So, what happened? At a meeting of the supervisory board and the management board of an industrial group, we were discussing a group-wide synergy project. I had presented the objectives and the premises. When one of the board members asked me “And how exactly are you going to do that now?”, I replied “I don’t know.” Everyone present thought this was a joke. Only it wasn’t! I simply had no other answer to the question.

How naïve of me. And how stupid. Or was it?


The history of naïveté is a tragedy, a terrible misunderstanding. Naïveté has nothing to do with stupidity. Naïveté falls into the same category as trust and guilelessness. It is a lack of reserve. When we call someone naïve, we accuse him or her of lacking in reserve. Why should that be, when a naïve individual is in actuality courageous and free?

I’m sure you’d like to know how I got my head out of the noose in the above meeting. Well, quite simply, I promised to report on the status of the project every two weeks. It would have been stupid and, not least, mendacious to state in advance what exactly would happen over the next six months. Because a) things turn out differently and b) than you think. The only thing that matters is the end result.


In our day-to-day business, we are primarily interested in initiatives, milestones, activities, etc. In reality, however, these contribute nothing to success. They are merely a means to an end. I never cease to be amazed by the length of time and effort we devote to discussing plans, risk lists, critical paths and so on, compared with the time we spend discussing what it’s actually about, namely the desired outcome. Instead of thinking about relevant criteria that we can use to determine whether we are getting closer to achieving our goal, we discuss whether we are able to tick off an activity. We talk our heads off about which traffic light should show red instead of yellow, who is to blame and how we can finally get this traffic light to turn green.

Yet we show ourselves incapable of handling the complex reality of plans, because their deceptive charm depends on the condition “ceteris paribus”. So, we run through everything to identify every single variable until we think we know the best case, the worst case and everything in between.
But none of these cases will occur, because in reality there is no “ceteris paribus”: the variables of the plan change, because everything is constantly changing.


In reality, our plans increase complexity because it has been drummed into us that you have to stick to plans. Let’s be honest, how often have you realized in the middle of a project that there is a simpler, shorter way to success? But unfortunately, it wasn’t discussed and agreed. What a shame!

Ignore complexity! Be naïve! Allow yourself the privilege of a purely results-oriented approach with a high degree of openness for the path to the goal. It is crucial to know what you want and which clear progress criteria define the path to the goal. Don’t let plans, action lists or the umpteenth risk analysis distract you from your goal. Don’t test your ideas to death. Give them a chance!

Dispense with half-hour PowerPoint sessions. Have the courage to sketch out your idea in five minutes – freehand – without having charts and a bunch of slides up your sleeve.


Image: AdobeStock christophe BOISSON

You and your team will learn to focus on the essentials. You will talk in graphic terms and give examples that will stick in the minds of your colleagues and have an impact. You will prove that you are passionate about what you are presenting. The expression “from the heart” means what it says.

But be careful! Managers realize that there is also a negative side to naïveté, not least when they tackle complex processes with naïveté.


Ask your management group to spontaneously exchange unconventional ideas that have not been checked beforehand on the basis of countless market studies or competitor analyses. And don’t just ask the silverbacks, i.e. the experienced department heads and successful salespeople. Also, talk to your new recruits and lateral entrants. The knowledge required to solve the problem already exists in your company, even if it currently lies buried. Your task is to uncover this knowledge by posing unreserved, naïve questions.

Naïve is often considered to be a synonym for “childlike” or even “stupid”. If you have children, you will have already experienced first-hand just how pertinent their questions are, because they go right to the heart of the matter. Why is the sky blue? Why is water wet? Why is the banana crooked? The fact that we squirm and struggle to answer our children’s questions doesn’t show how stupid but rather how on the ball they are.

Matthias Kolbusa


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