Tag Archives: journalist

Ask Questions Now; Write Later

11 Sep

In the 2010 HBO documentary Public Speaking, Fran Lebowitz observes that when she gives public readings and is subjected to Q and A sessions, she often receives what she calls “answers from the audience.” These participants use the format as a way to prove something to her and the rest of the audience—ostensibly, to prove that they, themselves, are worthy, smart, and deserve to be lifted to or beyond the status of the orator.

Movie trailer for Martin Scorsese’s HBO documentary of Fran Lebowitz, Public Speaking.

This idea is followed in other spheres—in many professional settings—where its players obey the adage, Fake it ‘till you make it. While I understand the usefulness of such wisdom, I would say that if practiced without limit, the approach becomes a sickness, a harsh side effect to unfettered competition.

Acting like we know more than we do is often an exercise of insecurity. (The same goes for under-selling our abilities, by the way.) If our actions are overwhelmingly motivated by insecurities, nothing really gets done. The Fake it ‘till you make it philosophy, therefore, is inefficient.

Practicing Humility is Not Just a Moral Social Convention

It’s an essential quality for a writer, or for anybody who needs to process new ideas and situations. Personally, I do this by suppressing my impulse to avoid looking ignorant: I ask a lot of questions, ones to which I don’t know the answers.

This skill of absorbing information not only helps me understand how to perform in new professional settings but it serves me on any given project. I listen now, I ask questions now—risk sounding stupid now—and as a project materializes into a final product or presentation, a creative director or a client or a coworker will witness the benefits of this strategy (and stop wondering if there’s a hole in my brain).

It’s a journalist trick: if I have the courage to play dumb, I can solicit much more thorough accounts of a problem, story, or situation. Spending extra time to understand these elements at the beginning of a project serves the quality of the results.