Are you smart? Want to be stupid? Learn how

I know, you’re really smart. Got it. That’s why you’re founding a company that’s going to change the world. Great. Soon Larry and Sergey will be calling you on for advice.

I feel the same way about myself. Can’t wait.

But until then, I need to convince myself that I’m stupid. Or at least fully internalize the fact that there are too many landmines in my future to count, and that I, in my current state, have almost no chance of avoiding them. What can help, though, is leaning on the advice from folks who have stepped on a few mines themselves.

Here’s the problem though: hardheadedness is the whole reason I’m an entrepreneur to begin with. Irrational optimism, the belief that I can build a future no one else has yet, skepticism of conventional wisdom– these traits are the lifeblood of successful entrepreneurs. Unfortunately they can also be the downfall. How do I balance learning from those who have gone before me with rightfully discarding the doubts of those who will be proved wrong by the future?

My first step is to think about my own blindspots in advance, and then build guardrails for the future. (SPOILER ALERT: I have no idea if this will work.) Is my bias to dismiss good advice, or to be overly swayed by everyone’s opinions? Personally, I suffer from hardheadedness — but not always. There are some people whose opinions I highly value — especially when they contradict my own. These are all people I know very well. They’ve earned my respect over time, which unfortunately means that new people I meet — i.e. the many people who will help me avoid landmines — are not in my “trusted” group.

So as a first step, I want to treat the opinions and advice from everyone as if the it came from someone I respect immensely. If the idea contradicts my own beliefs, I’ll dig to find what the other person is seeing that I’m not. In short, I’ll approach each situation with the belief that I’m stupid.

(Note: A good first step would probably be to think of myself as being “humble” rather than “stupid,” but then no one would want to read my blog post.)


4 thoughts on “Time to Be Stupid

  1. I like this post…Good job grabbing my attention. I really like how you rephrased being humble. I think in addition to being open and humble, you must build “instinct” or a “trust your gut sense” over time. Over time and exposure in the innovation economy you develop confidence which builds this intuition. Most entrepreneurs don’t get it right the first time but learn a ton. I think a healthy understanding that the first thing you try or build will not work out, helps. However, unless your stupid and believe you will achieve your goal can you optimize learning.

    Finally, similar to you I find a dynamic tension between the old saying, ” a smart man learns from his mistakes, but a wise man learns from the mistakes of others” yet “you can’t teach experience some things must be lived to be learned”. Guess I land somewhere between humble and stupid.

  2. I think this is a very interesting article, great take on how to receive advice! I personally think it’s important to pick our group of advisors carefully. Naturally we trust our friends, family and mentors the most, but the people we are closest to usually cares about us the most and would hate to see us get hurt or go through failure. Therefore, I find these people’s advice usually leaning towards conservatism and inaction. They also might support you to give it a try, but would advise you to stop and pull out as soon as you hit any minor roadblocks. Hence your point on expanding your “trusted” group well beyond what you’ve previously determined is an important way to prevent skewed feedback through bias sampling.

  3. Interesting post and topic!
    It is great to have a trusted network of family, friends and mentors to run ideas by and get advice. You can be confident that those people will have your best interests in mind when giving you recommendations. However, my approach would be a bit different in the sense that I would try to get advice for as many people as I can. I would reach out to friends, acquaintances or colleagues who work in different industries to make sure that I hear the perspective of people from different backgrounds and who can see and think about problems in different ways. I do not need to admire or trust those individuals, but just see them as contributors of ideas. I agree, all entrepreneurs have some hardheadedness and sometimes that’s what makes them successful. However, entrepreneurs should also realize that they do not know everything and need to get some expert’s advice and opinion when it comes to specific topics. With different perspectives and data points, an entrepreneur should be able to weigh the pros and cons of different options and make an informed decision. I agree with Santana that you learn to trust your gut sense over time, but at all times, an entrepreneur should grow his network to have a plethora of resources to refer to for advice or even discussion.

  4. Thanks for this post! I completely agree with you that there needs to be a balanced between both optimism and skepticism. You need to believe that your product will succeed, but you also need to survey individuals to ensure there is a need in the market and that the timing is right.

    By surveying trusted advisors, particularly in the entrepreneurial space, I would assume that you’d be talking to the “innovators” and perhaps some of the “early adopters” in the adoption curve. If you want to scale to a much larger product, however, it will be very valuable to get feedback from the individuals who don’t immediately gravitate to new platforms. These are the ones who can provide some feedback around what adjustments may make them want to use your product or service.

    Above, Guylaine mentioned that she “would try to get advice [from] as many people as [she could],” however, I’m not sure that’s the optimal solution. I think it’s more about who you survey (vs. just focusing on volume). It’ll be important to surveying/capture feedback from people who fall into different categories of the adoption curve (perhaps there is some minimum volume of individuals that would help).

    With that said, don’t immediately move away from or give up on your idea if the feedback you hear is not positive. Henry Ford once mentioned, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” The reality is, sometimes people don’t know what they want. In these instances, I feel like it’s best to develop the MVP for customers to experience; this is when you’ll really understand how customers feel about your product or service offering.

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