That’s right. Employers might be looking for the best and brightest, but there’s actually something to be gained from playing the idiot. In fact, there’s even a name for it: “strategic stupidity”. Also known as the tactic used by people like Mama June, Ke$ha and Ryan Lochte to keep drawing you in and getting your money… think about it, who’s the true idiot there?
Before anyone gets offended, let’s be clear: no one’s suggesting you go around pretending you haven’t got the brain cells to function, or that there are people like that - even if it does seem like everyone else had a double shot of idiot juice in their coffees on Monday mornings. This article is just suggesting that there’s more than one way to utilize your seemingly superior brain function, and it might just be pretending you don’t have it.
See Also: The Complete CV Writing Guide
So, how can acting stupid get you ahead?
1. Ask Questions
Remember that really smart student in your class at school? Remember how their hand was always the first up to answer a question, but they weren’t so quick to respond when the question was "any questions"? You may have spent your school years jealous of how quickly they picked everything up, but the fact is that they were actually suffering in their own way: they had done such a good job at building up their brilliance that on the occasion that they actually didn’t understand something they had to hope someone else (read: you) asked the questions for them. If you didn’t, then they had a long night of homework ahead of them.
That hasn’t changed in the workplace. The smug know-it-all isn’t about to ask any questions and admit they’re confused; they’d rather go back to their desk, do it wrong and suffer with their manager later. That’s where you, the office idiot, comes in; no one will think twice if you start asking questions, which means you don’t have to be embarrassed about needing to ask them. Not only can you help yourself by getting full clarification and not wasting your time doing something the wrong way, but you can help everyone else by getting the answers they never thought to ask for. Ask the right questions and you might even find yourself on the receiving end of some praise.
2. For the Best Deal, Act Gullible
Two shrewd people entering into negotiations ends in a stalemate; a smart person faced with a smart person pretending to be a gullible idiot who will believe anything creates an actual situation of negotiation.
Play the stupid card correctly and you’ll have the “clever” party letting their guard down to the point where they make a crazy offer they would never normally make… at which point you can let them know just how much you really understand and accept their generous offer. This gets you ahead by making you look good in front of the boss, especially since your smarter colleagues couldn’t have pulled it off; unfortunately, you’ll want to pretend it was a fluke if you want to keep your idiot status.
3. Job Security
The class clown is never really expelled, and the office idiot is the last to be fired. You’re so inoffensive that you fly under the radar and you’re the last person anyone thinks of when it comes time to fire someone; you also haven’t made any enemies looking for opportunities to try and sabotage you. Either way, your apparent stupidity is adding to your job security.
Equally, an idiot is not a threat. While those "superior" to you are fighting it out about things they think are far over your head, you’re happily doing your own work and not getting involved in any of the office politics or backstabbing. If they keep at it long enough, their productivity will come to a standstill and they won’t even notice that you’re edging ahead of them to actually become the hardest worker.
Of course, if you’re an assistant looking to progress, you might not want security. In that case, consider how acting stupid can ensure that you get to move on; if you’re too good of an assistant, then your boss isn’t going to want to let you go and let you move on to your bigger and better things.
4. Exceed Expectations by Lowering Them
The more promises you make on your resume or in an interview, the more is going to be expected of you. That doesn’t slow down once you start the job, and you’ll slowly start to find yourself working longer and longer hours and being asked to do more and more. Swallow your pride and offer 80% of what you’re capable of; when you provide 81% and more, everyone’s happy without even having worked harder.
The office idiot who plays their cards right will have so little expected from them that any achievement will be a great one. They will never be asked to do more work, never be asked to cover for a sick colleague, and never have to do more than the absolute minimum to stay employed. They will always finish work on time - or even early - because no one will ever interrupt them to ask for their help or opinions, because they aren’t expected to have any.
Even Google knows it. Consider everything it’s capable of. Then imagine it actually showed off all those capabilities right on its homepage: would it have become so popular, or would people have been scared away?
5. We're All in this Together
If you’re the smartest in the room, people aren’t going to feel comfortable trying to match up to your standards. On the other hand, if you match yourself to their less-smart standards, they’ll feel better about getting stuck in and helping you to achieve your common goals. At the same time, acting the idiot lets the other person feel clever and avoids confrontation; has your clever partner ever had an idea that they think is brilliant but you realize isn’t? Rather than just tell them so - they wouldn’t believe an idiot like you anyway - you should carefully poke holes in their idea until they think they were the one to realize it wouldn’t work.
If you are in the position to be sending out a mass email about a successful project or venture, be sure to use "we" rather than "I." (If it makes it easier, think of it as the royal we.) Recipients of an email all about how "I" did brilliantly will only come to hate you and try to bring you down, but say it was "we" and throw in a few names of those who really did help and it will feel like a collaboration everyone can feel good about.
See Also: What to Do When Your Boss is an Idiot
In any office, there are always going to be smart people mixed in with stupid people and everyone having to find ways to coexist. The smart ones will sometimes find themselves jealous of the peace the idiot gets; depending on the idiot, they will either be glad they’re not continually pestered or the smallest bit jealous that no one ever thinks they have anything to say.
Have you ever experienced being the smartest or dimmest one in the office? Which do you think it’s best to be like? Let us know in the comments section below!