I Am the Dumbest Person in the Room

Ever get in a rut? You know what I mean… you crank out a few ads, go to a few dozen meetings, creatively complete another expense report? Short of chucking it all and meditating on Machu Picchu, how can you kick yourself in the butt and use the other side of your brain for a while?

If you’ve been labeled as the “creative guy/girl” for years, it’s a mantle you wear well… why mess with it? Because if you’re not growing, you’re growing stale. I remember when that realization hit me.

The screen is getting fuzzy… (Insert your own dream sequence music here.)

I remember it like it was only last year.

Fortunately, I work for a very progressive company. Whitlockebs has allowed me to stretch in ways I never thought possible a year ago. We started a business service provider sister company, and I was asked to help with the marketing by writing the brochure and Web copy. Uh, huh.

How hard could that be? I reasoned that it probably provided business services to businesses. No big deal. Until I met Mr. Smart Guy.

The president of the new company came down to give us an overview of what services the company would be providing and how it would help customers spend more time running their core business and less time with enterprise relationship planning and customer relationship management. (If you need the full story, you can see what it’s doing at www.aspentba.com.)

After three hours of white-board diagrams and more acronyms than NASA, I had only one question: “Are you talking to me?” I felt so stupid, I didn’t even know what questions to ask.

Over the next few months, I read everything I could about application service providers (their original format) and can now speak reasonably intelligently about it.

We’ve also started a Wireless and Mobile Division here. Guess who they asked to work on it? Yup. Here’s another time when I felt like Barney Fife at a MENSA convention. The terms flew fast and furious: “WAP,” “G3,” and “LAN” were thrown around like everyone in the room knew what they were. Everyone did… except me.

Gradually, over the course of weeks, I started to unravel the mystery of wireless communication. You know what? It isn’t that complicated. The bigger point here is that if you’re not stretching, you’re staying the same.

What have you done lately to get out of your comfort zone? If you’re an art director, have you taken a totally new approach to your latest work? Copywriters… when was the last time you wrote copy like Barbara Cartland? (Hopefully, you don’t do it regularly.)

Here are some ways to bust out of those zones:

  1. Ask for the tough assignments. Life is short. Keep on learning. I remember someone wrote to “Dear Abby” asking if, at the age of 44, he should attend medical school. “I’ll be 52 when I’m finished.” She wrote back, “How old will you be in eight years if you don’t go to medical school?”

  2. Read, read, read. I try to ask people in different fields for their favorite books. I might not understand the technical aspects, but there are strands of truth running through most great books that everyone can learn from. Two that have really impressed me lately are:

      “Leading Change” by John P. Kotter (Harvard Business School Press, 1996). This is one of the most interesting books I’ve read in a long time about leadership, change, and effective management. There is no jargon, and because it was written in 1996, doesn’t talk at all about the Internet. The anecdotes are great, and you will get something meaningful out of it.

      “Dynamics of Software Development” by Jim McCarthy (Microsoft Press, 1995). That’s right, software development. This was recommended by my new wireless friends. McCarthy was on the Microsoft team that developed C+. (I used to think this was just my high school grade point average.) I know nothing about software development and loved this book. Chapters include “Beware of a guy in a room,” “Don’t know what you don’t know,” and “If you build it, it will ship.”

If you have books that might be considered out of the mainstream, please send your recommendations to me. I’ll devote some space each week to a new resource or two that we can all learn from. My email address is peter@stickyideas.com.

Time to get back to my WAP-enabled LAN…

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