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What I Learned This Week: Big Meeting? Invite an Ignoramus

Posted: 11/19/2012 8:59 am

They say that November is the cruelest month.

Well, "they" must be attending our current slate of annual budget/strategic planning meetings at Just For Laughs. The antithesis of the exhausting-but-euphoric time that marks us delivering our flagship event in July, our meetings are equally as draining, but with very few of the joyful moments that make delivering a Festival so rewarding.  

Our November meetings are judgment days where far-reaching decisions are taken, where budgets are slashed or rewarded, where colleagues jockey for power, where one's elevated objectives are set in stone; in essence, who shall live, who shall die, who shall be exalted and who brought down.

Put another way, it's kinda like Yom Kippur...except that we can eat.

As evils go though, our November meetings are indeed necessary ones, as what eventually emerges from them does provide us with a roadmap and expectations. Good luck running a business without at least one of those two.

So who are the lucky meeting attendees? Obviously, leaders of each of our sectors, plus key members of their staff. But joining the experts in attendance are some company "generalists." These people, from accounting, or operations, or upper managements, only see each sector from a bird's-eye-view, and thus their understanding of it is rudimentary at best.

Equally as obviously, they are the ones who ask the most uneducated, ignorant and ultimately infuriating questions. The type that don't just make you roll your eyes or slap your forehead, but force you to tighten your stomach like a vise and clench your anus like fist.

So here's what I learned this week: At such meetings...the Ignoramus is a necessity. Ignorance isn't such a bad thing. The word is given a bad rap. Unlike stupidity, ignorance can be cured. And that's the beauty of the "Ignoramus in the Room." Their general understanding -- or misunderstanding -- of the facts, the situations, the business, the history, the players, the what-have-you act as a catalyst for discussion and discovery.

At worst, the Ignoramus makes one explain things that have been over-explained ages ago.
But at best, the Ignoramus brings what I used to call Virgin Contact Lenses to a situation -- they see things differently and force us to take this "greenhorn" vantage point. Their outsider status may make them most hardened veteran see something new, or re-examine a decision long engrained as "this is how we always do it" in their psyche.

Don't ban them from your meetings; invite them in! Don't believe me? Just think: with whom would you rather spend a dinner, a bunch of know-it-alls, or a group of know-nothings?

Sorry, no specific examples to share with you; I take this stand to protect the innocent, and the guilty. But trust me when I say that at last week's meetings, just about every exasperated sigh of "Oy..." was met with an equal contemplation of "Hmmmm..." Let's hope I can say the same for the ones that are going on as you read this.

So to close this tribute to the Ignoramus, I leave the last word to Lou Dinos, a Los Angeles-based comedian with whom I used to share a room on the Howie Mandel American tour I produced way, way, way back when. A happy-go-lucky guy whose off-beat brilliance is grossly underappreciated, Lou would always make me laugh when he tossed off this non-sequitur in his act:

"They say that ignorance is bliss.
I don't know what that means...
but damn, I'm happy!"

 

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