Play the Dumb Green Card

We're New to the Industry, and People Expect Us to Ask Questions

By Published on . 2

Kelly Eidson Kelly Eidson
While I was in my internship at Ogilvy this summer, I heard Shelly Lazarus (chairman and recently retired CEO of Ogilvy Worldwide) tell the interns that one of the primary reasons she was so successful in the early days of her career was because she played "the Dumb Girl Card." When Shelly started out in the business, there were very few women in offices (let alone advertising agencies) and many men who thought that women weren't smart enough to be there. According to Shelly, any time she asked a question, the men around her would take pity on the "dumb girl" and go to great lengths to answer her questions and explain things in detail. As much as she found it condescending, Shelly learned to use this to her advantage and continued to play the Dumb Girl Card until she knew more than her male peers.

Shelly told us that the point of her story was that we must learn to set aside our pride and ask questions without worrying about looking stupid. In most circumstances, someone else in the room is confused, but is too concerned with looking smart to ask necessary questions like "what does this all mean?" or "so what?" The people who ask those questions not only help themselves make sense of it all, but help the silent people around them as well.

In my experience, we green millennials in internships and entry-level jobs can benefit from Shelly's advice. We are, as a generation, terrified of looking unintelligent and inexperienced, which is a terrible shortcoming. It's my opinion that we shouldn't be afraid of playing the Dumb Green Card, because asking questions is the fastest way to get the answers and learn something valuable. I also believe that giving the impression that you know it all is far worse than giving the impression that you don't know enough. We're new to the industry, and people expect us to ask questions. Asking questions also helps our supervisors educate us and learn where our knowledge is thin. This is a good thing, since most of them don't have the time to lay out a training program. The Dumb Green Card is our friend.

There is a major caveat to the Dumb Green Card that I must mention: There is a time and a place for questions, and it's usually not in the conference room. We shouldn't be afraid to ask questions, but it needs to be in a time that won't inconvenience a room full of people, unless it can be answered in a few quick words. We won't bother superiors by asking smart, timely questions, but we will bother them by slowing down a meeting, overstepping our boundaries, and constantly pestering the same person for answers. When playing the Dumb Green Card, manners still apply.

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