In our relentless desire to appear smart, we often end up looking like idiots.
November 18, 2011
“I don’t know.” It’s a simple comment and usually the truth, yet we don’t like admitting it and when we do it’s often a last resort. God forbid we actually don’t know something!
By now you’ve seen the video of Herman Cain trying to fake his way through a question about Libya. Afraid of appearing ignorant he ends up looking like an idiot. He should have said, ‘I can’t answer that right now.’ Or, ‘I’ll get back to you.’ Or, simply, ‘I don’t know.’ At minimum, he chould have asked the reporter to be more specific. Eventually he does push the reporter…sort of…but the damage was done.
Before most Q & A’s politicians are given talking points to myriad issues (irritating in their own right) but often those are still not enough. Sometimes they just don’t know. But instead of saying so they feign knowledge, hoping to muddle through. It’s not just politicians who bullshit their way through answers; it’s all of us. Why are we so afraid of saying we don’t know something when, in fact, we don’t?
We in Adland are no exception. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat in client meetings and listened to colleagues’ bullshit their way through a specific question. It’s painful to watch. Especially when the person won’t shut the hell up. He or she keeps digging and digging. The hole grows. Sometimes we all fall in. By the end of the meeting there is often a vague stench in the air, of bullshit. No wonder we are labeled talk artists and confidence men.
Is there a latent gene in people, especially (and ironically) in the smart ones, to constantly have an answer? The answer. Why do we process every interrogative as if it’s a college essay question, whereby saying “I don’t know” is unacceptable? Not knowing something is acceptable and reasonable. We are not gods. Yet, we are hell bent on making a statement, especially in groups. Eagerly, we often jump on questions clamoring to answer them. Frankly, it’s rude. I’d like to think I’ve outgrown my fear of ignorance but it can rear its ugly head at anytime. Why? I don’t know.