The joy of feeling out of touch

Truant London's Chris Jefford argues that there's a freedom in being the stupidest person in the room

The theory of evolution is predicated on a single thing

That over time, species become more and more capable of dealing with the environmental conditions that make or break their survival.

They evolve, they improve, they survive, and as the world changes with them, the cycle continues and the classic image of ‘the ascent of man’, depicting the growth of humankind from knuckle-dragging ape to upright, confident, strident humankind gives us all hope that we’ll get wiser as the world around us gets older.

Over my 24-year career (Christ almighty that number is hard to take in), it is certainly true that in many ways I’m far better at ‘work’ than I was as a fresh economics undergraduate with a grudging acknowledgement that I need to make a living somehow before my parents kick me out.

And yet, throughout that 24 years there have been a thousand times where I have had to build knowledge from zero — often completely by design. And far from that being a panicked moment of discovering that my whole life has given me nothing that can help in this instance, the feeling of being out of touch and out of depth has, and remains to be, a thrilling experience.

Listening to the excellent ‘High performance podcast’ recently, Mel Marshall describes her philosophy to elite coaching as ‘going to bed an expert and waking up a novice’ — a perpetual quest to learn anew every day.

Honestly, I love being the stupidest person in the room.

What’s this? Why is that? Who is she? Where did that come from? How do they do that?

There is freedom in not knowing, and opportunity in leaning on people who do.

That is true wisdom.

Understanding that to know is to seek out places where you know nothing.

As a big music fan, I seek out the new releases every week. It’s a Friday ritual that I’ve done for as long as I can remember. Yet a few weeks ago I asked someone at work what track was playing. It was by Masked Wolf, was called Astronaut In The Ocean and it had over 1bn streams on Spotify.

I’d never heard of Mr Wolf.

I thought Astronauts were space based.

I didn’t know anything got 1bn streams.

I knew nothing, it has completely passed me by.

Released 3 years ago to little acclaim, the track caught fire on TikTok in the late 2020s and here it is today, with more streams than the whole of Miles Davis’s back catalogue… mind blown.

With access to the world’s information at our fingertips, there is I believe an unnecessary pressure to be right and in-the-know all the time. And as a brand owner or business leader, this pressure can be palpable.

In writing about their book “Not Knowing: The Art of Turning Uncertainty into Opportunity”, Steven D’Souza and Diana Renner remark, “In a complex world, no one person can possibly have all the answers. You will inevitably face challenges that are hard to define, let alone to solve — even after years of management experience.”

The reality is that it’s okay to not know. It’s okay to be stupid. It’s okay to lean on those that do. Which is why my call-to-arms for all of those blisteringly bright people that work for us at Truant London is always ‘make me feel old and make me feel out of touch, every day.’

Zen monk and teacher, Shunryu Suzuki said, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few”. Because with great ‘unknowing’ comes opportunity — opportunity to find fresh perspectives, new motivations, and brilliant innovations, that you might miss if you think you know it all.

So, it’s great to go to bed at night thinking you have it all sussed, just be ready to learn it all again in the morning.

Editor’s note: Chris’ article (and title) made me think I had to somehow include Hall & Oates 1984 classic song Out Of Touch. What better way to end the piece?

Featured image: Hall & Oates, Out Of Touch (1984)

Chris Jefford, Co-Founder and CEO at Truant London

Chris Jefford has spent his 20-year career working across a range of media and technology roles. Starting his first business at the age of 14, Chris graduated with an Economics degree before moving into technology at the dawn of the Internet in 1998. Father of two and hip-hop devotee, he started his career working for a range of original dot-com start-ups, before settling in adland in 2006 working as the operations lead at Y&R on the Microsoft account.He went on to become Head of Digital at Holler, working with the likes of Channel 4 and Yahoo!, before moving to become Director of Innovation at Saint@RKCR/Y&R, where as one of the first employees, he was instrumental in helping the business grow to become agency of the year. In 2011, he left to start his current business, Truant London, with his partners Dave and Simon, where he is now CEO.

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