Twofish's Blog

August 20, 2006

Pretending to be stupid

Filed under: academia, massachusetts institute of technology, wikipedia — twofish @ 8:59 am

One of the skills that you have to learn in order to function in the corporate world is to appear much stupider than you really are, but not so stupid as to fire you. It’s actually not that hard.

The mask that I’ve learned to put on is either that of the “absent minded professor” or the “socially awkward geek.” That fits into some common stereotypes, and so people don’t question them, and it makes you look nice and harmless.

I don’t think of myself as smarter than my bosses. I have skills that they don’t have. They have skills that I don’t have. What causes all sorts of problems for corporate hierarchies is that a lot of managers feel very uncomfortable dealing with subordinates that are *as smart* as they are, because that opens up a lot of uncomfortable questions, like if we are intellectual equals then why are you getting paid so much more than me. (Answer: Because I decide the salaries, and so of course I’m going to give myself a bigger one than you.)

So you have to put on some masks to make it seem as if you are dumber than your bosses. It’s actually not that hard. Most of it is just learning to shut up, and shutting off your brain from time to time. Also do not take any statements by management that they want you to be creative or to innovate seriously. Avoid believing that they really want to help you achieve your potential.  They might be nice wonderful caring people, but they are acting in a rigid hierarchy that forces them to act in certain ways.  They’ve got their own masks that they put on.
The problem with those masks is that over time, they start to destroy your soul, and part of the reason that I was pretty assertive at asking for a week off is that over the summer, for the first time in a long time, I was at MIT where I didn’t have to pretend to be stupid.

And it felt good.

The nice thing about MIT is there I don’t have to pretend to be stupid and incompetent, because there I *really am stupid and incompetent*. It’s really fun for me to be in a room where I really am the dumbest person there, because people that are really smart (as opposed to people who are trying to pretend to be smart) tend to be very supportive, and if you really are stupid and incompetent in a room full of people that are smarter than you, some of that stuff rubs off and you become less stupid and incompetent.

P.S. before anyone accuses me of being arrogant. Let me point out that I can do plenty of stupid things unintentionally. I actually enjoy being *really stupid*, because it means that I’m working at my limits, and I’m learning new stuff. I hate *pretending to be stupid* because there I’m not learning anything. In that in the corporate world, I’ve been in situations where I’ve had to hit the “off” switch in my brain, because just thinking about a situation, much less trying to change it, would have been too painful.

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