Why It’s Smart To Be Dumb

Anyone considering entering into a coaching programme first must decide whether you are willing to be right or willing to be smart.

Being smart means listening to learn and not listening to see you if you agree. Being smart means being willing to be dumb. There’s nothing dumb about being dumb, some of the smartest people on the planet got smarter by admitting they didn’t know and by being willing to change their minds.

Someone once asked Dr Richard Bandler, co-creator of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), ‘Do you work with the deaf, dumb and blind?’ His exasperated reply: “Every single day”.

There are none so blinkered as those who don’t want to see. Have you ever had an insight into a problem and later realised that the solution had been staring you in the face for ages? Or been given advice that you didn’t listen to, only to later find that it was correct? I’m sure you have – we’ve all been there.

Blindness to the obvious or to new ideas is one of the biggest blocks to effective coaching. Socrates said, ‘I cannot teach anybody anything. I can only make them think.’ A coach can’t make someone change; he can only guide a client through reflective conversations, metaphors, enquiry and inquiry, and insights gained through tools, techniques and processes. The coach can be teasing, chiding, provocative, caring and supportive – whatever the client needs to help him or her see clearly.

Here is one of my favourite metaphors for explaining this principle:

A long time ago, there was a wise Zen master. People from far and wide would seek his counsel and ask for his wisdom, many would come and ask him to teach them, enlighten them in the way of Zen. One day an important man from the city came to visit the master.

“I have come today to ask you to teach me about Zen and open my mind to enlightenment, I am an intelligent man and I will study hard.”

The Zen master smiled and said that they should discuss the matter over a cup of tea. When the tea was served the master poured his visitor a cup. He poured and he poured and the tea rose to the rim and began to spill over the table and finally onto the robes of the important man. Finally the visitor shouted,

“Enough. Can’t you see the cup is full already and you are spilling the tea all over me?”

The master stopped pouring, smiled at his guest and then said;

“You are like this tea cup, so full that nothing more can be added. Come back to me when the cup is empty, come back to me with an empty mind.”


Now with this in mind, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Am I willing to keep an open mind?
  • Am I willing to listen to learn rather then to see if I agree?
  • Be smart enough to be willing to be dumb

Your answers may help you understand which of your personal traits to work on next.


Further information about how to facilitate learning can be found in Chapter 5 of my new book Business Coaching & Mentoring For Dummies.


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