Try to be dumb today
One of my favorite movies is Dumb and Dumber. Just so many good lines. Jim Carrey is at his finest, and Jeff Daniels plays the perfect foil (producing plenty of his own laughs).
I’ve seen it at least five times, but it’s been a while. So I am only 98% certain that there’s no hidden wisdom beneath dead bird pets and twin geysers of mustard and ketchup. The movie’s better for it. Sometimes we just need saccharin slapstick absurdity — without any sobering aftertaste.
However, there is a short half-life to charisma in leaders if not backed by some substance. We all know the story that the jester in royal courts was the smartest person there. (Or at least that’s the way in Shakespeare.) I like keeping the image of the jester in my mind as a leader. It helps me say less, and it’s more fun anyway.
When you’re early in your career — or perhaps lacking in education, you should try to get smart fast. Note that I did not say “look smart.” That’s a pyramid scheme that reinforces the wrong habits and serves to feed an ego monster that will grow to massive size. No, you should work on mastering one domain area, gaining broad knowledge, assembling tools for thinking, getting good at understanding things, and learning how to learn.
To sum up:
When you’re dumb, work hard at being smart.
Meanwhile, as you gain knowledge and experience, you need to continually stretch yourself. It is easy for age and positive reinforcement to cement your views and reduce the thirst of curiosity. Only by continually challenging yourself, testing your hypotheses, and taking intellectual risks can you grow. Lifelong learning is uncomfortable.
Further, as a leader one needs to leverage others effectively, which means encouraging them to do better, know better, decide better. The boss who makes a habit of ‘being smart’ in a group setting dampens diverse views and reduces the education process of the team.
When you’re smart, try ever to be dumb.
It is exceedingly hard for smart, well educated people in corporate environments to play the fool with sincerity. But my experience asking the so-called “dumb questions” has shown that the team’s attitude changes to one of “let’s figure this out together.” Other individuals besides the leader start to spot fundamental flaws in logic, ask “why” more, and own the problem.
In the process, I also get a chance to hear views that may confirm my own null hypothesis.
So sometimes I discover that I am the one who is truly dumber.