“What if you played an ignorant guy who was actually curious?” is how the actor Jason Sudeikis explains his approach to his character, Ted Lasso.1
It’s a method of acting, but it could be a method of life. (A method we’ve covered before: “Teach your tongue to say I don’t know” and “learn to play the fool.”)
The method is perhaps best summarized by Mike Monteiro: “The secret to being good at anything is to approach it like a curious idiot, rather than a know-it-all genius.”
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The “curious idiot” approach can serve you well if you can quiet your ego long enough to perform it.
A curious idiot is unafraid to ask stupid questions. Every stupid question you ask takes a teeny, tiny act of courage. Sometimes you have to muster the will to push the words out of your lips.
I’m currently at the tail end of one of the worst projects I’ve ever been involved in, and several failure points probably could’ve been avoided if I’d have had the guts to stuck my nose where it didn’t belong and ask the contractors stupid questions until I was satisfied with their answers.
I got so angry about it last week that I posted this tweet thread:
Lesson I have learned the hard way over the years: when working w/ a contractor or collaborating on a project, if you see a potential snag or just a nagging doubt DEAR GOD BRING IT UP and ASK QUESTIONS about how specific things will work. Do not assume anyone has it covered.
I have been burned so many times over the years imagining the worst that could happen at a specific step in a project, not saying it out loud, and then that thing, in fact, does happen. Don’t think, “Oh, I’m just a worrywart, it’ll be fine.” Trust the voice in your head!
Especially when you are working with “experts,” like, electricians or builders or designers or tech teams or whatever — ask them the stupid, obvious questions. The expert constantly misses things the outside observer catches, exactly because they’re not an expert.
If an expert dismisses your stupid question or doesn’t answer it in a way that’s acceptable to you, that is a huge red flag. You should either a) keep on them and ask them more questions b) find a new partner.
Hope for the best, prepare for the worst, always — and if it’s your project, and your ass that’s on the line, remember that nobody cares as much as you do, and nobody is paying as much attention as you are (care is a high form of attention)
That last point might be the most important: care is a form of attention, and unlike talent or expertise, it can be willed into being at any time.
If you care more than everybody else, you pay better attention, and you see things that others don’t see. To ask the questions that need to be asked, you have to care more than others about what happens, but care less about what others might think of you in the moment.
“Teach us to care and not to care,” wrote T.S. Eliot in “Ash Wednesday.”
Or, as Karen McGrane put it so wonderfully and vulgarly, “Give a crap. Don’t give a f***.”
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- At the end of the first season, while playing a high stakes dart game, Ted Lasso quotes a line from Walt Whitman he says he saw on the side of his son’s school: “Be curious, not judgmental.” Not a bad line, and it’s been quoted by people all over, and Etsy-fied on mugs, t-shirts, and bumper stickers, but I’ve found no evidence that Whitman actually said it.
- “Attention is the most basic form of love.”