If something stupid makes money, then it’s not stupid.

I’ve seen some stupid things in my life…And some of them were really really smart.

I remember a story from decades ago where the U.S. military was looking to equip the Stealth Bomber with a fancy computer-driven video system so the pilots could see behind them. Well, the computers failed to get the job done, so they went with a mirror – not too different than the mirror on the door of your car.

Similarly, my experiments with automating my communication at The Mighty Mo! have largely been trashed in favor of good, ol’ fashioned phone calls and emails. It turns out a quick, 1-line, personalized email from me saying, “Done.” is more effective than a longer, automated email from my project management tech system.

The Segway Scooter failed, not because of any failure of technology or design, but because too much redundancy in its technology pushed the entry price into the $5k+ range. It was a solid machine with backup batteries and gyroscopes and more! But as excited as I was about the Segway, $5k was just too much to fork over for something with roughly the same functional use as my $80 Huffy bike. Then 20 years later, some enterprising people stole the Segway idea and built a sub-$100 version of the Segway, calling it a “hoverboard” – It became so popular that even Mike Tyson had one!

This brings me to the point of this article: If something stupid makes money, then it’s not stupid.

Examples of Stupid Smart:

  • Just because people make fun of your shoes, doesn’t mean you can’t run well or fast.
  • Cheap guitars.
    • Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine is one of the most-innovative and influential guitar players ever and has used the same amplifier since he started over 30 years ago! I guarantee you Joe Pass would sound great on one of those $50 Walmart guitars.
    • Ever see Esteban play guitar on QVC – he’s a marvel, and his guitar sounds great when he plays it! But his guitar is surely a piece of shit compared to a Gibson guitar…but Esteban’s is playable and accessible for beginners.
    • I used to play gigs with a $50 retail Walmart guitar that I bought from a friend for $10. It had a crack in the neck that was glued together with wood glue. It also had a duct tape guitar strap I made. It didn’t sound great, but it got the job done and regularly-received glowing compliments from audience members who thought it was some ancient gem created by Stradivari himself! Plus, I could sling it on my back and take it to gigs while I rode my bike (a $75 piece of crap, itself!).
    • I bought a $100 Guitarlele on Amazon that plays wonderfully – and it has the added benefit of me being able to take it anywhere and not worry about it breaking (If it breaks, I’ll just buy a new one!).
    • My $65 classical guitar sees more action than my $1500 Gibson!
    • My $25 monoprice Ukulele is comparable in playability to my (awesome) $250 Yamaha model.
  • Everything made by Monoprice.
  • I traded in my daughter’s $900 rental violin for a $75 Amazon violin – Not surprisingly, nobody noticed the difference.
  • If you make a living coding vanilla html and css, you are not old-school; you are smart.
  • If you use off-the-shelf WordPress templates rather than building complex custom themes, you are smart.
  • My lowest-priced product, a 1-on-1 WordPress training workshop, is my best-value product for buyers, and I regularly recommend it.
  • A good cook can make Aldi chicken taste like 3-star Michelin. I never ate a thing I didn’t absolutely love that Ben Pichler cooked at Burch Steak & Pizza (R.I.P., Burch).

Examples of Smart Stupid (cases where people think they are being smart, but they are actually being stupid):

  • Corporate/Non-profit re-organizations of all sorts. For some reason, people think that giving their employees new titles and reporting structures will change how much they suck at their jobs. Similarly, the city of Minneapolis has some do-gooders who are trying to restructure the police force in the name of anti-racism and to combat the very real historical abuse by our police force. They are seeking accountability, but they’ll find the opposite in a re-organization. A more effective approach to attack these historical blights would be to change policies and rules within the existing police force – something you don’t need voter approval for and will not expend valuable attention and resources that the Defund Police movement is sucking up to no avail.
  • Meddling by the U.S. government in foreign countries. Afghanistan is only the most-recent example – most have ended similarly.
  • Bureaucracies, be they government, non-profit, or corporate. A friend of mine worked at a large corporate/non-profit where a minimum of 6 people were at every meeting, and nobody did anything of note, fearing to cause a stir or to step on toes of co-workers.
  • Avoiding direct confrontation, especially involving HR is disputes. Blood must be shed from time-to-time – it’s better it happens at a small scale, early, and often.
  • Mistaking higher-tech for better tech. The best shoe I’ve ever worn was Hoka Bondi 6, which sits on the largest cushion you’ve ever seen in a shoe – and it feels like I’m walking on a cloud of air! It turns out that more cushion = a softer landing…who woulda guessed?!
  • Thinking there’s a connection between better gear and better art. Most bands’ best work is their early work…before they had access to world-class musicians and recording gear. Bob Ross could have worked wonders with my 99-cent kids’ watercolor kit.
  • Mistaking the causes of hurt feelings for toxic behavior in the workplace. A boss demanding accountability should be celebrated regardless of the hurt feelings it causes. Read Patty McCord’s excellent book, “Powerful”, for more about business accountability, a topic she calls, “Radical Honesty” (but make no mistake – she’s talking about accountability. In fact, the word, “accountability”, has become boring and therefore likely deserves a deeper look. Stop calling it “radical honesty”, Patty!). Read on…
  • Thinking that sex-, gender-, ethno-, etc-related harassment is the only form of workplace toxicity. People committing sexual harrassment in the workplace should face consequences, but so should bosses who are passive-aggressive and bosses who are just plain mean-spirited. There is more workplace toxicity that is difficult to categorize than the opposite.
  • Thinking sex-trafficking does not involve boys and men equally as girls and women (the fact that conversations around sex-trafficking almost exclusively revolve around the impact of sex trafficking of girls is part of our anti-gay inheritance).
  • Investing in marketing infrastructure rather than sales infrastructure. In most instances, a simple phone call will close the deal where an impressive marketing program will fail.
  • Confusing Insurance (Big Business) with Health Care (the art of getting well).

What do you think – Am I stupid or smart? (or both)

p.s. This article was inspired by Nassim Taleb’s Skin In The Game, where he says, “If something stupid works (and makes money), it cannot be stupid.”

Toby Cryns

Toby Cryns is a freelance CTO and WordPress Guru. He also writes for WPTavern.com.