Want to be a more perceptive entrepreneur? Try being the dumbest guy in the room.
I’m a sucker for new ideas, even if they have nothing to do with the job at hand. Actually, especially if they have nothing to do with the job at hand. There’s a soft spot in my heart for topics I’m woefully under-informed on. Meeting experts in other fields fires me up like a shot of sugar.
The only downside is that that I always feel like the dumbest guy in the room. Why do so many people know so much more than me? How do I incorporate all these ideas into what I do, without spinning off course? And most important, how the heck do I make money at it?
Be Proud Of Your Inner Clueless
John Marshall Roberts, a behavioral psychologist and good friend, seemed familiar with my dilemma and offered a solution. He said my inner clueless could be a powerful asset in my business:
The whole thing feels like a Zen concept because it is a Zen concept. It’s called Beginner’s Mind. Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki summarizes it: “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.”
Great Solutions Start As Possibilities
The key word here is possibilities. When it comes to solutions for global problems (and how to market them effectively), there are myriad solutions. But our expertise has made us more adept at criticizing new solutions than promoting them.
Our expertise constrains our vision of the possible. Tweet This Quote
Accept conventional North American wisdom on climate change, for example, and you accept that our only option is to drive the planet into a brick wall. This crash comes with the official-sounding title “climate adaptation.”
Yes, we need to adapt as Mother Nature exacts her revenge for our profligate behavior. But climate adaptation feels more and more like the only option being seriously proffered. Any open-minded beginner could tell you this isn’t the only possibility. In fact, it’s a lousy, stunted way forward.
Now look at technology. I’m working with one tech startup and am about to launch into another. My title? Director of Keeping It Human. In short, I was brought aboard to poke holes in the wisdom of experts, and ‘dumb things down’ to a level ordinary people can understand. My colleagues (at least when I ask them) say my “dumbest guy in the room” skill is something they value highly. Who knew?
We need to celebrate the importance of cluelessness—especially in entrepreneurial business ventures Tweet This Quote
We marketers tend to accept a limited role in creating change. We’ve become experts in selling the products our clients tell us to sell. Our expertise constrains our vision of the possible. We’ve become order takers, thinking our creativity needs to be confined to the Four P’s. In a world where linear production and hyperconsumption are major problems, throwing up our hands and saying it’s not our department is both a great shame and a missed opportunity for creative thinking. Why do we keep doing it, then?
How To Retain Your Beginner’s Mind
To see your current project with beginner’s mind, get yourself outside the project:
- Physically: When was the last time you walked away from your project and immersed yourself in something completely different—a weekend in the woods, a long afternoon at the magazine rack, time with friends who don’t give a hoot about what you do? Not thinking about what you do for an extended period can give wonderful perspective when you get back to the job.
- Psychologically: Jesters used to play a valuable role in kings’ courts. Their job was to ridicule the ideas brought forward by advisors. Because their official role was “fool,” they had license to point out the failings of ideas—failings that “expert” insiders had possibly missed. Try putting your jester hat on when you next look at your project.
- With help: My favorite tool for getting perspective is enlisting the help of outsiders. Every project I work on starts with interviews—with management, workers, and outsiders. If you want the blunt truth on your project, ask someone in a completely different field (or a child, or retired person, or someone new to your culture) what they think.
Every expression of cluelessness is a creative opportunity waiting to be explored Tweet This Quote
I believe we need to celebrate the importance of cluelessness—especially in entrepreneurial business ventures. After all, every expression of cluelessness is a creative opportunity waiting to be explored.
Editor’s note: If you have questions about building a futureproof brand, ask Marc in the comments section below. His answer will either run here or in his monthly newsletter. And check out his book, Didn’t See It Coming for more stories like this.