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Never Be Afraid To Be The Idiot In The Room

I have been blessed with a fantastic career, with (hopefully) many years left in it.

I have had lead roles as a museum and exhibition designer, 3D artist and animator, creative producer for internet companies, and head of digital for an above and below-the-line ad agency, plus some dabbling as a technical consultant and writer for some of the world's leading tech firms and 3D related publications.

Phew, that's a lot of different did that happen. It boils down to the best advice I can give anyone who wants to get ahead in any area of the creative industry. Has nothing to do with being creative.

It is to appear to be the idiot in the room when asking questions.

This ability has been my superpower in achieving my goals across all disciplines I have worked in.

I think, at this point, I should define what I mean by 'idiot'. To be clear, I do not mean enter into a creative meeting naked, apart from underwear, with half a banana shoved in one's ear, as I have never done this - yet!

What I mean by 'idiot' is when something is unclear regarding part of a brief or review session, client pitch or a weekly team meeting schedule, say so.

If I don't understand something, I will stick my hand up (if it's that kind of meeting) and say, 'Um, I don't understand what you mean. When you said X did you mean X, or did you mean Y?

Obviously, that is never a sentence I have actually asked. Still, by adding X and Y, we can break the sentence into a problem (I need help understanding) with two possible solutions (X and Y).

And while people don't like being told about problems, they do love problems with solutions you will solve for them. Even better if you are supplying more than one solution, which gives them a choice.

Alternatively, the following 'idiot' question is equally valid.

'Um, I don't understand what you mean when you said X. Did you mean X? As I don't know what X is, could you explain it for me, please.'

This is great, as you are asking for greater clarity, and it also gives you the agency to help explore the problem more clearly.

Looking back on all the various design disciplines I have worked in. My ability to successfully challenge briefs and communicate my intent with clients and fellow team members has been the backbone of my success.

It has always staggered me when people complain about clients or internal meetings regarding feedback. I asked them, when given that feedback did you ask them what they meant, to which usually the response is 'no'.

'No' means feedback has yet to be challenged or understood and is a dangerous path. It can lead to confirmation bias concerning revisions, increasing frustration for everyone involved in the following review sessions.

Another reason to ask the 'idiot' question is that it gets you noticed.

It makes you the person who wants to understand a point fully so that you can correctly execute it.

This is a highly valued and surprisingly rare commodity, which is much more critical than what software you know. As is the ability to clearly create or interpret a brief which will make a success of the project and you a creatively engaged member of the team that delivered it.

So next time you are in a meeting where something is unclear, don't be the person who stares at their feet thinking, 'I don't get what they mean'. Stick your hand up (if it's that kind of meeting) and be the 'idiot' in the room.


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