It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.

Have you ever found yourself in the middle of a situation that was clearly over your head? We all have. It is to be expected. 

Some of us go headfirst into moments like that, while others are considerably more reticent. The dynamic of those moments are an interesting variable. 

Let’s explore it like a chess game. (If you have never played chess, it is not too late. Learn the game. The grey logic you learn from playing chess will be of infinite value in making choices in your life on an ongoing basis).  If you are in a situation where you are potentially in over your head, you would appear to have a narrow range of choices. 

The first choice is to bluff your way through it. The bluff option has some merits, in that you might actually win the day with bravado and a skillset of knowing how to read people’s nonverbal body language and continue to say just enough of the right things as to leave them believing you really know what you are speaking about. This has a medium percentage chance of securing the moment for you, but the downside risk is that the more you say, the deeper you put your foot in your mouth. And when you are around others who are on top of the topic at hand, and they are listening to your bluff, you are instantly at the bottom of their esteem, your standing with them drops and the moment is lost.

The second choice is to remain as quiet as possible and listen with everything you have, so as to learn as fast as possible in the moment. This has a higher percentage chance of succeeding, because without enabling others to really discover what you do or do not know, you are reducing their ability to discover your ignorance and thereby leaving them less able to gauge your knowledge of the topic.

Both chess moves have significant plusses and minuses, but in the long run, the opportunity to remain more silent and learn is the much better move.

This said, I learned at a very early age that there was a third choice that has (almost) always saved the day. That is to boldly admit the ignorance out of the gate. Intelligent people have long discovered that the more you know about a topic, the more you discover how much you still need to learn about it. Knowledge is like a fractal, the more you drill down on a topic, the more infinite the spiral of knowledge expands. (See animation below). So when you express something to the effect of: “I don’t know as much about that as I would love to know, would you tell me more about it?” Suddenly you have changed the entire chess game. If you say that sentence (with genuine sincerity) you almost inevitably convert the people with whom you are speaking from judges of your knowledge, to instantly becoming your teacher!  Why is that?

People love to show you how smart they are. This is a direct outcome of how school works. When the teacher asks a question, the student is trained to respond properly and receive an accolade. So the moment you tell them you are ignorant in their area of expertise, and you genuinely invite them to share some of their knowledge, then they stop judging you and quickly start teaching you. It gives them an ego boost, with zero detriment to your standing with them. In fact, since you have given them a chance to show you how smart they are, they actually like you even more as a result.

The Illusion Factory does a lot of things, in a lot of media, in a lot of technologies, for a wide array of clients and projects. I have never once taken a class in anything that I have taken on professionally. Not a business class, economics class, nor advertising, marketing, design, animation, etc. etc. etc.  My solution has always been to empower another person who is smarter on a topic than I am, to help me accomplish whatever it is that I am seeking to accomplish. This has allowed me to remain consistently the most ignorant person in my company, while simultaneously learning vast amounts of information from all sorts of experts who are most kind to share their knowledge and experience with me.

This practice is one to master. It will take you much further than blustering your way through a conversation trying to prove how smart you are. Admit your ignorance out of the gate and empower the other person to teach you and you will reap the knowledge of the universe.

Learn something new today, ask an expert a leading question to enable them to teach you something. Once you master this, you are well on your way to success.

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Written by Brian Weiner
When I was 5 years old, I discovered that the lemon tree in the backyard + dixie cups + water and sugar and I was in business. I have been hooked on that ever since. In 1979, I borrowed $14,000 to create a brand new product... photographic greeting cards with no text on the inside, called Paradise Photography. That was the start of The Illusion Factory. Since then, The Illusion Factory has been entrusted by all of the major studios and broadcasters with the advertising and marketing of over $7 billion in filmed, live, broadcast, gaming, AR, VR and regulated gaming forms of entertainment, generating more than $100 Billion in revenue and 265 awards for creativity and technology for our clients. When I took a break from film school at UCLA to move to Hawaii, my mother did not lecture me. Instead, she took 150 of her favorite aphorisms and in her beautiful calligraphy, wrote them artistically throughout a blank journal. That is the origin of the Lessons from the Mountain series. Since then, on my journeys to the top of a mountain to watch the sunrise, I have spent countless hours contemplating words of wisdom from the sages of all races, genders and political persuasions, constantly accumulating the thoughts to guide me on my life path. I hope you enjoy my books. Please let me know your thoughts, as I highly value your feedback!