Here’s to the clueless ones.“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” – Shunryu Suzuki

Cluelessness is underrated. It’s the newbie who does
something he didn’t know was supposed to be impossible. It’s the naive
guy asking the one dumb question any clued-in person would diss. And
it’s that question that leads to the answer no expert would have found.

The clueless accomplish amazing things–not necessarily because
we’re bold, brilliant innovators, but perhaps because we just don’t
know any better. We see the simplicity of the forest while Those Who
Know are overanalyzing the complex subtleties of the trees (and miss
the point). Sometimes NOT knowing about a “problem” weakens (or
eliminates) it.

Perception is a powerful tool. Believing there’s a limitation can sometimes create
that limitation. And for the clueless who don’t know about the
limitation, well, it’s as if it doesn’t exist. Belief matters. Not
everywhere, not in everything, but more than we give credence to.

And it doesn’t take any new-age/self-help foofiness to explain it.
This is not about “the power of positive thinking.” You probably all
know the story of Roger Bannister–prior
to 1954, experts believed that running a mile in less than four minutes
was beyond human capability. People assumed it was an insurmountable
human limitation–not possible. Some believed that even if you could, your heart would explode. But in 1954, Bannister broke the four-minute-impossible-barrier and clicked in at 3:59.4.

That was cool, but the remarkable thing is what happened immediately after that. Just over a month later someone else did it, and then before too long a ton of people were doing the “impossible” sub-four-minute mile. The real barrier was psychological.

In this case, Bannister wasn’t clueless. He believed in his
training. But I think it still demonstrates the point. The people who
broke the record after Bannister were essentially the same as
people who’d always been clueless about the “impossible” limit.
If–prior to Bannister’s run–some of them had missed the memo on the
whole heart-exploding thing, chances are the record would have fallen

Part of the charm of cluelessness is that you approach things with a hopeful perspective, trying to figure out how
to do the I’m-too-clueless-to-know-it-cannot-be-done thing, rather than
accepting the “reality”. Often, by the time you learn you can’t do it, your response might be “Oops! You mean this thing I just did?”

Example: a group of seven middle school girls from Petaluma,
California–12 to 14–year olds, accomplished something that everybody
said was impossible. They fought city hall and won. They
created a business proposal, refused to be derailed, and after several
YEARS of work pushed through a multi-million dollar project that the
best commercial developers in the state hadn’t been able to pull off.
These young girls simply didn’t know that you just can’t DO that…
especially if you aren’t old enough to drive. Their story is one of the most inspirational things I’ve ever heard.

The clueless tend to be a bit more optimistic–after all, we don’t know how bad things really are. But this can be a blessing too–there’s evidence to suggest the optimistic live longer and are less prone to depression. So there’s that.

As a poster child for cluelessness, I have many clueless experiences
I treasure. The Head First book series would most likely never have
happened if we’d had a clue about the tech book publishing world. Our
cluelessness is the only explanation we have for why two unknown
non-authors (who knew zero about publishing) went forward with
something so strange. “If books like that would sell,” the seasoned publishers told us, “Trust us, someone would have done it by now.” (If I had a dime for everytime I heard that
one, I wouldn’t need royalties to pay the rent.) The ultra-experienced,
it seemed, were blinded by their certainty of “the way things work.” In
other words, they knew it wasn’t worth the risk, and had no reason to revisit their assumptions.

Yes, I recognize that it’s ridiculous to equate “cluelessness” with “beginner’s mind”. Or is it? What if “clueless” is simply a label the glass-half-empty folks give the glass-half-full folks. If we’re optimistic,
we must not have a clue. What if we simply see the world through a
different lens? A lens that opens doors and windows the cynical and
pessimistic are too busy dissing to notice?

Mathematician/philosopher Alfred North Whitehead said,
“The ‘silly question’ is the first intimation of some totally new development.”

The clueful need us. We’re the ones who ask the silly questions.

And in the spirit of Apple’s Here’s to the Crazy Ones:

Here’s to the Clueless Ones

The ones who see things differently

They’re not fond of rules (granted, that’s because they don’t actually know about the rules)

They have no respect for the status quo (see previous statement)

You can praise them, disagree with them, quote them,
disbelieve them, glorify or vilify them.

About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them.
Because they change things.

Maybe they have to be clueless.

How else can you take on city hall at the age of 12?
Or break the impossible record?
Or build an internet startup without VC bucks?

While some see them as the clueless ones,
we see a fresh perspective.

Because the people who are clueless enough to think
they can change the world, might be the ones who do.

Do not underestimate us.

Posted by Kathy Sierra on February 19, 2006