This morning I came across an interesting post from Dan Luu on looking stupid. Some of the points brought up in this post resonate with me and I can understand the arguments being made for "looking stupid". From my perspective, this manifests most often due to asking extremely simple (some may say stupid) questions. I've noticed that the brightest people I have been around tend to ask alarmingly basic questions. Go to any martial arts gym and you will find that the most experienced and knowledgeable people in the room are the ones asking the most questions. There are a few reasons why I think this is the case:
- Simple questions are easier to answer which allows the person asking them to more efficiently gather information from others. Over time, this has a powerful effect on building knowledge. The more answers, the better.
- Asking basic questions is the best way to understand why somebody else does something. Directly asking "Why?" often doesn't lead anywhere as even the best at something are not always conscious of the why. It is easier to teach and share what to do than why, as the "what" often leads to the "why".
- Those that excel tend to be great students; they are able to push down the part of them that wants to respond with "I know" and ask the question anyway. Strangely enough, it seems that it is possible to receive the same answer to the same question on multiple occasions and find that the outcome is different in each instance. A different context or the presence of new external information can help an old answer provide new insight.
- In many cases, things are much more simple than they can seem. It can seem stupid to ask obvious questions, but there is often an obvious answer. This prevents over-complicating simple things.
As pointed out in the post above, if you are truly in a healthy learning environment then looking stupid is nothing to worry about. In order to learn, you have to put yourself out there and broadcast that you may not know something (gasp!). Ask simple questions, especially if they seem like they are "below" your level of knowledge. When everyone is bought in, this leads to a free flow of information and builds trust between those involved. This benefits the individual and the whole alike, and is something that almost any organization can benefit from. I think the post misses out on this aspect of "looking stupid"; it can actually have great social value as well.
Ask simple questions and look stupid.