Nobody Has A Clue What They're Doing

Photo by  NASA  on  Unsplash  — thanks NASA.

Photo by NASA on Unsplash — thanks NASA.

Everywhere you turn, everyone’s trying to convince you that they know what they’re doing. But they don’t. LinkedIn is full of so-called entrepreneurs and marketing experts who want you to hire them because, they would have you think, they know what they’re doing. But, really, they don’t.

Nobody knows what they’re doing. We’re all just making it up as we go along.

But that’s the whole point. That’s how progress works. Whole industries are based on people not knowing what they’re doing. Why do marketing experts still advocate split testing? If they knew what they were doing they wouldn’t need to. Why do we need market research? Why do we need focus groups? Keyword analysis? Exploratory procedures? If the experts really knew what they were doing we’d already have the answers. Why do we even need elections? If politicians were as competent at their jobs as they would like us to believe, we wouldn’t need to vote them out when they invariably fuck things up. Because they never would.

Nobody knows what they’re doing. They don’t have a clue. They’re stumbling around in the dark and, using the limited information they’ve gained in the past, feeling around for the light switch. Not knowing what you’re doing is how you move forward, the real expertise is about asking the right question. Being an expert in asking questions based on what you know and, more importantly, what you don’t know, means that your next step into the darkness is going to be better placed than the last one.

Having an awareness of the information you don’t have is a more powerful position to be in than thinking you comfortably know everything. Because if you find yourself in that position, taking comfort in your comprehensive, faultless knowledge, it means that you’re either going to be replaced by a robot any moment now, or you’re actually just stagnating. Neither of those things are good.

As frightening as it is, it’s far more advantageous to be aware that you don’t know what you’re doing. But that, in itself, comes with it’s own problems. That’s because there are two different types of not knowing what you’re doing. The first type is the one that gives in to fear. It’s the type that says “that’s a bit ambitious, I don’t think I have the knowledge or the skill or the credibility, so I’m just going to draw the curtains, curl up under the duvet, and not bother”.

And then there’s the second type of not knowing what you’re doing. It’s the type that says “I have no idea how to do D, but I do know how to do A, B and C. And I’ve seen other people do it, so how hard can it really be? Fuck it, let’s give it a go and find out along the way.”

This second type tries new things. It enrols in evening classes. It learns new skills. It begins new projects. It advances medical science. It sends probes into outer space. It steps out of its comfort zone. It finds out. It creates art. It experiments. Puts itself out there. But most of all it isn’t afraid to look stupid when it asks questions, or when it tries something that seems so outlandish nobody will believe it until they see it, or when it falls flat on its face.

We should all practice that second type of not knowing what we’re doing. Facing the fear and taking a few risks here and there to see where they lead us. Understanding what we’ve already learned and seeing how that informs our journey. Putting ourselves out there and not caring what people think. Trying new foods. New sports. New newspapers. New ideas. New ways of thinking.

The problem is, all too often we enjoy seeing people fail. It gives us a chance to say “I told you so.” And it reinforces our own lacklustre existence and lack of effort. Because when people we know succeed it makes us question our own identity and place in life. Perhaps if I’d got up off the sofa once or twice I too would be running a marathon right now. Perhaps if I’d done something with that idea I had, I’d also be a millionaire right now. Perhaps if I’d been more encouraging instead of rolling my eyes, people would be encouraging me right now. Perhaps if I fail people will gloat just like I do when I see it happen to them.

When Elon Musk announced that he was going to build electric cars and send rockets into space, how many people said “sure you are, and what kind of a name is Elon Musk, anyway?”

When James Dyson said he was going to revolutionise the world of the vacuum cleaner, how many people said “what a waste of effort, my dust buster serves me just fine”?

When E.L. James said she was going to write a bonk-busting bit of Twilight fan fiction and, you never know, it might get turned into a movie and make her a tonne of money, how many people sniggered behind her back?

But when we stop caring what people think, our eyes begin to open. When we start embracing those things we know nothing about, and search for the answers we need, things start to happen. We become braver because we realise that the world doesn’t end when we take action and, as much as people laughed, we’ve progressed while they haven’t. Our horizons get broader and our worlds get more vibrant, colourful and interesting. We begin to progress, become aware of ourselves, and realise what we’re capable of. And we become more encouraging of others who also embrace the fact that they haven’t got a clue what they’re doing, because we understand how exciting it is to find out.

Take a step into the darkness and find out what’s there. And then take another step. And then take another step. And before long you’ll see how far you’ve cast your light, and your world will look brighter and very different. And you’ll wonder what other things you’ll discover when you keep making it up as you go along.