Program Manager Wisdom #78: Reveal your stupidity

I have been doing a little thinking recently about how to be a good Program manager.  What skills, habits and practices I have seen successful in the past?  And I have been making my way through Orson Scott Card’s Ender series.  I never thought the two would meet… but they did. 


Last night I ran into this quote, that colorfully characterizes one aspect of being a PM I really value.


You, however, understand the profound truth that you must reveal your stupidity openly.  To hold your stupidity inside you is to embrace it, to cling to it, to protect it.  But when you expose your stupidity, you give yourself the chance to have it caught, corrected, and replaced with wisdom.


Orson Scott Card  in  Ender’s Shadow


What do you think?




Comments (16)

  1. I think the author is confusing “ignorance” with “stupidity” – revealing ones “ignorance” is indeed a humble trait. But revealing you’re “stupid?” and your team will rightfully wonder how you got into your position.

    YOUR JOB: To provide your team with the necessary tools to complete their job as defined by you.

    THEIR JOB: To make you look good!

  2. James Ashley says:

    I’m guessing Blake hasn’t read the series. Orson Card is not the sort of writer who confuses ignorance with stupidity. Actually, Blake may be one of those PHB’s who prove what Card was saying. (No offense intended. Just speculation).

    To be truly great, one must get rid of one’s faults. You don’t get rid of flaws by hiding them. You get rid of them by admitting them and fixing the problems.

    I have a suspicion that far too many managers have reached their positions by hiding their flaws and stepping on other people to reach their current level of incompetence.

    They should have showed their stupidity when they were starting out, taken their lumps, and learned from it. Instead, they’re sitting on a house of cards, hoping their minions can make them look good, terrified someone will discover how bad they really are.

    In other words, don’t waste your time gold-plating a turd.

  3. Ron Cotton says:


    I read this series when it first came out and I there are a number of insightful items in the book. I couldn’t agree more with the Card’s statement; however, this is rather old idea in that I found this in the Bible somewhere. It was something about "not be proudful". If you are not proudful, I think that your natural tendency is to put your thoughts out whether they are stupid or genius.

  4. Robert Kozak says:


    I am also reading this series over again. Orson does a great job of presenting the reader with the moral dilemmas of the characters without being overly preachy about it.

    I have a quote that I use with my team and as a framework architect I try to mindful of it with every decision I make:

    "If the only tool you have is a hammer, the whole world looks like a nail." – Mark Twain

    I never want to be in a position where because of my skillset that I am closed to other opinions or ideas or solutions because all I see are nails.

    — Robert

  5. Chris Donnan says:

    1st – Ender Series is great. I have been longing for something as good since i finished it. I am now on Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series (on audio for the subway commute).

    2nd – I have always maintained that when leading a team – you need to be a peer 1st. While I do believe that at times you must flex your authority to get moving – you more often need to be humble. Showing your stupidity is going to happen – you can either try to cover it (they wont buy it anyhow), or earn their respect by being open about your shortcomings. Then – you are a trusted peer…..


  6. Jeffrey Stylos says:

    A related quote, from Orson Scott Card’s Xenocide:

    "The wise are not wise because they make no mistakes. They are wise because they correct their mistakes as soon as they recognize them."

  7. Henry Boehlert says:

    I often find people who would not ask techical questions for it might make them look stupid.

    Although some of the questions I ask are stupid , more often than not in the following discussion we then discover design flaws or undocumented assumptions.

    And I think it’s better my colleagues think that I am stupid than our customers think that we are.

  8. Abubakar says:

    This quote is so true. I have had the unfortunate experience of working with people/PMs who have tried to hide there stupidities and completely messing up the project. People who admit there mistakes and admit there ignorance about something are those who want to learn more and deliver successful projects.

  9. Is this the same as openly admitting blanks in one’s own expertise? Is admitting one’s own mistakes part of it? That’s how smart and honest people live.

  10. I once worked for a Lead Engineer that had been promoted to Supervisor and just completed his management courses. He appeared at the weekly team meeting after that and declared, "I’ve finally received my management lobotomy!" Now I know that some management stupidity may be required by corporate policy and enforced through surgery. Brings a whole new meaning to "management battle scars", doesn’t it?

  11. M. Hoque says:

    I am not a PM, but a developer/Architect or somewhere in between. From my past experiences I have found that PM’s that actually asks questions that are stupid(or just misguided) to a developer actually helpful. It reveals differences about the idea from PM’s perspective and the developer’s perspective. Plus few times it also got me thinking from a different perspective and define/design the product to be more flexible and better. So personally I like my PM to ask me stupid questions. Also gives me something to pick on him about at the company party 🙂

  12. Mattster says:

    I’d recommend checking out the wit and wisdom of David Brent:

  13. Marty says:

    I think that this sort of thought does not just apply to a PM role. I think someone that realizes their limitations makes their limitations known to others and strives to address thier limitations through learning, understanding and knowledge, makes a great (insert your role here).

  14. Rusty Zarse says:

    At least I am not alone! The "hide my flaws" attitude definitely transcends rank and position as I witness everything from developers to directors trying to convince people that they have skills and protecting their ownership of the domain, rather then developing their skills and enabling their team and peers. I’ve purchased Ender’s Shadow from amazon…

  15. Check out the classic Jim McCarthy book: "Dynamics of Software Development"

    One of the great essays in there talks about how (as a manager) it is important to cultivate an active ignorance. Because you are no longer doing, you are ignorant of the true state of the work being done, and must rely on the team to tell you how it is going. In order to do this you must admit you are ignorant of the true state of the project.

  16. I’m not afraid to ask stupid questions. By that, I mean if I don’t know something, and don’t have enough information to be able to work something out, I ask. I’m feeling particularly sheepish after asking a stupid question on an internal Microsoft discussion list right now, but I’m also feeling like I fundamentally understand something. I now have to write about my understanding for our customers, and I’m hoping they benefit from my mistakes.