Be the idiot.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve had pretty scathing feedback in the past.

None of it, however, will compare to the reaction Alfred Wegener received to his work.

Some called it the “delirious ravings of people with bad cases of moving crust disease and wandering pole plague” and “the dream of a great poet”*.

Others, (looking at you, American Association of Petroleum Geologists) staged an entire symposium to oppose the hypothesis. (The poor bloke was even invited along to a lecture.)

So, what was his unutterably stupid idea?

Continental drift.

The German meteorologist noticed that the continents could almost fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. And he found significant similarities on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Fossils of the same plants and ancient animals were found on different continents. Geological features matched when put together, like mountain ranges in America and Scotland.

In 1912, he proposed a theory that a giant continent once existed. He called it Urkontinent

Or, as we know it today, Pangea. 

Wegener was eventually—posthumously—proven right.

But at the time, he looked like an idiot.

And that’s exactly what’s missing from marketing.

People who don’t care if they look like idiots.

So many people would rather stay quiet and stay ignorant, than risk looking stupid by asking a question or saying “I don’t know”.

I write about B2B technology. But I’m not an expert in core banking infrastructure. I don’t write algorithms for asset allocation models. I’m no engineer or data scientist. 

Which means I’ve got to look like an idiot if I want to tell the right story. I’ve got to ask all the questions. The basic ones, the seemingly super obvious ones, the stupid ones.

And in our industry—where there’s no way in hell anyone can know everything—asking questions is key.

The next time you don’t understand something, remember there’s a 99% chance someone else doesn’t either.

And you really don’t want that someone else to be your customer.

So, listen to the voice in your head that’s screaming “what! the! fuck! is! this!” in meetings. Stop trawling through 12 pages on Google without finding a single relevant hit. 

When you don’t understand something, ask a question. And keep asking until you get it.

Wegener’s since had a crater on the moon, a crater on Mars and an asteroid named after him. Not to mention a research institute, peninsula and scientific award.

Not bad for an idiot.

*What I would consider GREAT feedback. Probably not what a scientist considers great feedback.

Comments

Love this post. Marketers need to be more brave! If you’re not asking dumb questions or trying things that fail – you’re probably doing crappy work.

    Thanks Elle! Totally agree.

Lovely idea Jess, we’ve had a poster up in the factory for years that says “better to ask a stupid question than make a stupid mistake”. So I guess that means that good marketing people need to be honest and confident. I suspect you’re a good marketing person.

    Thanks Andy.

    Love it, that’s such a great poster! (I think we need to get one of them here.)

    I’d agree for sure. Honesty is key – as is being confident enough to ask questions (even when you think they’re stupid ones)!

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