Much of my career has been spent liaising between marketing/the business and the IT department in number of industries I knew nothing about until I was part of them.
With CRM and web being my major specialities since my first marketing job back in 1996, I have a real respect for IT departments/outsourcers and the pressure they face. That being said, they can also frustrate the c**p out of me…but patience is generally the order of the day when dealing with them.
My favoured strategy is to say, ‘I’m just a non-techie fluffy marketing chick. Can you please help me?’ and it has served me extremely well in getting exactly what I want from developers. I have had people tell me I shouldn’t be so self-deprecating and that I’m not asserting my authority. What I have found is, if you ask people to help you, generally they want to and will. Playing dumb gives people the opportunity to think about solutions and not be intimidated by you or the process.
Working in the horse racing industry as I do now, it’s also served me well. I had been to one race meeting in 20 years before I got the job and knew nothing. I’ve had a really steep learning curve. Saying I had no idea about something meant people would take the time to teach me. I now know how to read a form guide and can talk about jockeys and trainers and the races in general. Compared to Average Joe Public, I know heaps. Compared to those I work with, what I know could fit on a postage stamp. But people are always more than happy to take me on the jounrney with them when I ask.
I also worked for MYOB for 3.5 years despite accounting being the only subject I ever failed at university in my undergrad or postgrad studies. I probably opened the software twice the entire time I worked for the company. But not knowing things actually helped. When we got a list of all the new features in the software, I would ask: so what does it mean to me? Technical people would talk about a feature, but all I wanted to know about was the benefit. A laundry list of 10 new features could generally be categorised into two key benefits: saving time or saving money – or both. By being dumb about the actual products, it forced technical people to explain to me in layman’s terms what they had done, which I could then interpret for customers.
Playing dumb also lets you ask about and question the status quo. I will often say I have no idea about the current processes, but then ask why they do things that way. If you go in and say, “I think that’s rubbish. Why do you do that?”, you put people off side. Admitting you have no idea, for me, can also be a strength – most of the people I work with now are passionate about horse racing and understand all the ins and outs. With me not knowing much about horse racing, the business gets a greater insight into how non-racing fans will react to situations.
This is very much a personal style, but I find it works for me. Of course some disagree with my approach. I believe in admitting I don’t have all the answers, I don’t know everything and I need help. You need to let others shine.