Strategic Decay and Rotting Ignorance

Why is the system failing? Why can’t old players take footholds in new mediums? Maybe it’s because no one has any idea what they’re talking about. When experts predict massive upheaval and the bottom falling out of industries, they’re often very vague. You’re left to assume that in general, most people are decent and knowledgeable and the problems are all a result of poor leadership. The reality is that there is pervasive ignorance–that if the best are clueless, the mediocre are even worse.

I’ll give two quick examples, the first one being this abortion of a TechCrunch article:

FunnyorDie Hangs In There: Good Content Still The Key

As Duncan Riley tried to weigh in on online video, he butchered the names of two huge movie stars, called a video a hit that by any comparative metric was an abysmal failure despite major pushes and huge buzz, and wasn’t aware that College Humor allowed you to embed videos…even though their service predated YouTube. This is one of the top writers at TechCrunch failing at his most basic duty: Knowing what the fuck he is talking about. And that’s not even addressing the logical fallacy that was the entire thrust of his post.

On the reverse, Hollywood is equally clueless about technology. I plucked this from a deal memo I saw on Tuesday.

… [we will provide a] “traffic-allocating custom-designed widget”…

Uh…That doesn’t exist. It is the figment of someone’s verbose imagination. I guess it sounds good. Unfortunately it contradicts both the general purpose of widgets (which have a horrible track record) and the purpose of the deal in question. Presented to anyone who knows the slightest bit about the internet, it will immediately send off all sorts of warning flags. Ensuing laughter aside, it’s endemic of the mindset that the game is still the same it just has different buzz words. Nothing could be further from the truth.

There are two lessons we can learn from these (which are but samples of what any fresh face will see in old places), one pleasant and another that is incredibly difficult to swallow. And they often are at odds with each other.

One, there is a huge opportunity for anyone smart enough to cut through the bullshit and actually do the learning. 50 Cent calls the person who has overwhelming knowledge of the subject the “lion in the room” because no matter what, if they’re present, you’re going to be watching them out of the corner of your eye, knowing they’ll pounce if you get out of line. It’s not all that hard either. The facts are all out there for free. People who would have charged you just to say “hello” ten years ago are publishing all of their thoughts openly. You can follow Tucker’s feed and mooch of his hard work. What are my credentials other than that I read and think a lot and had mentors kind enough to notice?

Two, most people have never had the slightest clue. This is what TheExecutive pounds repeatedly into my idealistic head. Just because someone is ignorant, even a buffoon, it doesn’t mean they don’t have power. Having the opposite doesn’t automatically entitle you to success. Being wrong with connections is still incredibly valuable. His point is that we do not live in a vacuum and there are other things at play than pure strategy like jealousy, rage, friendship, favors, greed, sex, tax write-offs and macro, macro picture thinking. Since that we have finite lives and resources, being entrenched isn’t always a bad thing–it means you’re difficult to dislodge. Not everyone “cares” as much as you. So as completely ludicrous as the above quote is, it will probably work because there is a ton of dumb money and dumb money works at all the same banks that smart money does. You have to be able to go around them or work with them or you’ll beat yourself to death on their ossified bodies. Self-Righteousness is no better, it is just as strategically dangerous as stupidity. (It’s what I need to work on)

Written by Ryan Holiday
Ryan Holiday is the bestselling author of Trust Me, I’m Lying, The Obstacle Is The Way, Ego Is The Enemy, and other books about marketing, culture, and the human condition. His work has been translated into thirty languages and has appeared everywhere from the Columbia Journalism Review to Fast Company. His company, Brass Check, has advised companies such as Google, TASER, and Complex, as well as Grammy Award winning musicians and some of the biggest authors in the world. He lives in Austin, Texas.