“Success Through Stupidity” by Ron Cohen

You’re stupid. Admit it and you’ll be smarter.

You’ve always been pretty sharp: Interesting career, created things, led teams, built systems, solved problems, closed deals, etc. You know a lot.

Why can’t everyone else be as smart as you? Why does your system administrator nitpick instead of just configuring the firewall the way you said? Why doesn’t senior management allocate the funds you requested for new developers? Why doesn’t the customer just sign the deal already?

Perhaps because you’re not stupid enough – or aren’t willing to accept that you’re not smart enough to see all of the angles.

Your network administrator may have a long list of security, performance, reliability, and cost requirements that are not being considered. Senior management almost certainly is balancing issues that you are not privy to. You have no idea which features your customers really want until you see actual sales or adoption data.

Nobody knows everything. Internalize that. Be open to new information. Especially to information that contradicts your opinions.

Steve Jobs is commonly credited with the ability to predict market needs. However, it seems that Jobs’ success was arguably less due to his design abilities and more to his iterative down-selection of designs created by his subordinates. Furthermore, Jobs built an entire company (NeXt) that completely missed the market and flopped. Even Jobs was very wrong sometimes.

Most people perceive themselves to be smarter than they actually are. This is a psychological phenomenon known as “illusory superiority” or the Dunning-Kruger Effect. Dunning and Kruger are psychologists who received a Nobel Prize for their research showing that (at least in America) incompetent people generally overrate their own abilities while competent people generally underrate their own abilities.

Technology changes constantly. Cloud. Software-Defined Networks. New software frameworks. Mobile security. The list is endless, so be open to new concepts. Conversely, listen to the reasons others are not ready to accept the new technology you want to implement.

The next time you find yourself convinced of your omniscience and about to butt heads with some “moron”, try this: pretend to be stupid. Pretend that the “moron” is an experienced genius and you are a newbie. Shut your mouth and hear them out. Go off and think about what they said. Sleep on it. There could be some gems in their position. If in the end, they really are a moron, you can decide to ultimately ignore their input, but at worst you will have made their opinions feel welcomed and developed a new ally (even if they are a moronic one).

You should be cognizant of the Dunning-Kruger effect, but also careful to not go overboard into excessive self-doubt and analysis, which could lead to paralysis. That is to say, enthusiastically seek out other people’s opinion and be careful to avoid bias, but don’t forget to trust your own gut reactions too.

So, when you find yourself on the road to achievement and success, don’t forget to be a little stupid along the way.

Ron Cohen is an experienced technologist and manager, in addition to being a product development maven. He can be found at www.linkedin.com/in/roncohen/.

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