Before we begin, everyone should take note that a smart person can play dumb but a dumb person cannot play intelligent. A smart person is simply spending 20-30 minutes to triangulate if someone is worth knowing or if they should be thrown straight into the acquaintance bucket.
There are really only three categories where you will be forced to play dumb: 1) Business/Personal Finance, 2) Friends and 3) Dating.
Unlike our other posts we’re going to go straight for the jugular and explain how pretending to be dumb is going to change your life financially. In short, people are *not* created equal. Once a person reveals themselves to be of no value, drop the contact and don’t bother. Life is extremely short, you don’t have time to take coffee meetings with people who are not going to go anywhere in life. Will you be correct 100% of the time? Nope. Just play the odds.
Is this “mean”? Yes. It doesn’t matter. You need money not feelings.
How to Play Dumb in Business/Personal Finance
Lying About Your Knowledge Base
This is the master key to playing dumb. Learn this skill and you’ll save yourself hundreds of hours (wasted meetings/ventures). If you can obtain a baseline understanding of multiple businesses you’re going to use the following as your gateway line:
“Hey, you know, I’ve never really looked at XYZ before. I just wanted to say you’ve done a good job building XYZ (type of business), I’m interested in learning more about it. I’m happy to pay $X for an hour of your time.”
While the underlined sections will go overlooked to the untrained eye, they are key parts of your pitch. Ideally you can get the person’s time for free, but it is usually best to offer some small change to lock in the hour.
When you make the statement “just wanted to say” or “just wanted to let you know” this is usually a phrase used by people with minimal education. You want to *appear* to be a dope in this group. (There is a reason it is used in ads all the time.)
Now… With the backdrop set, you force the person to reveal his cards. Prior to the meeting ask for the following: 1) an example of a successful transaction/business deal and 2) high level numbers for margins, average selling prices and net profit.
Once the numbers are out you’re just using the triangle approach. You ask for two “unrelated” data points spread out across the meeting to get to the third point and see if the guy is a liar or if the business is worth it to you.
– Early in the conversation ask for a tax number
– In the middle of the conversation ask for a unit shipment number
– At the end, ask for a high level conversion number and to *really* make it seem like you’re dumb… ask for the ASP number again as if you “forgot”
You now have all of the information you need to determine if the business is worth investing in. If the above bullets don’t make sense… simply re-read them and you’ll figure out how the person is trapped into giving out all of his metrics over the course of an hour.
If you really want to confirm your suspicions then you go for the tried and true “Hey I don’t really know anything about XYZ you just mentioned can you explain the basics to me”. You use this line when the person is extremely confident about his knowledge base on the topic. If he slips… you know he’s not on the same level as you. It’s time to ignore everything he says after that.
Never Reveal Net Worth
Under no circumstances do you ever reveal how much you are worth (loss of bargaining power). This seems like common sense but regular people tend to give this information out like it is their first name. Don’t bother telling your best friend or even your relatives (the rule applies 100x heavier with regards to females).
The only situation where you want to use money is if you’re leveraging it on dates (you can use money to seal the deal but never reveal your actual worth). That is all.
Never tell a male how much you are worth because he will try to tear you down. Why? He thinks that he is your equal because you are roughly the same age (he never is and is usually dumber than rocks as well). Men are hands down the worst because they will go out of their way to be nosy, while women will simply try to gold dig which is easily avoidable (don’t give them any $$!)
When it comes to money and being around males, you simply pay 5-10% above your fair share in every situation (group tabs drinks etc.). Don’t bother being the cheap guy or the rich guy. Both are hated. By setting the bar just a tad above average you’re just a “nice guy”.
Here are some key ways to kill conversations regarding net worth and even income.
When asked about property say:
“I haven’t moved in forever still at the same place for 5 years!” (hint don’t bother with house parties unless you want to lose money over time). They will assume you haven’t materially moved your income over the past 5 or so years. You can move if you like.
When asked about your current job function compared to industry averages:
“I’m in a weird position where they just changed my title to keep me around, so it’s not really moving the bottom line much to be honest… kinda sucks” They will believe you are well below industry averages at all times making it harder to become envious.
When asked about vacations say:
“Ah I just go to cheap places, tier one destinations get pricey”
If asked about net worth directly by an extremely nosy person:
“Honestly I don’t know, a lot of student loans mess it up”
Playing Dumb in Your Career
By the time you’re in your early to mid-30s you should be generating $1M+ per year or more for your Company. You already know how to play dumb but it’s time to take it to the next level.
Any sales position or revenue generating position is always about $ output versus cost. Most people think that if they are paid $300K per year or $1M per year then that is the metric that will determine if they are up for layoffs. Entirely false.
You’ll hear a lot of stories about how a “high performer” making $700K per year was replaced by two “middle level” performers at $250K. In reality? The person was being paid a higher percentage of total compensation relative to revenue.
For example, if you’re being paid $400K it means you’re usually responsible for roughly $2-4M in total revenue. Now if you’re extremely intelligent, you actually want to be paid *less* than $400K so you’re next in line for the “land grab” internally. What is the point in pushing for a higher percentage, say $450K, when you can wait it out for a slice of the next totem to fall in the $1.5M range?
We’ll stop there because it won’t make sense to a lot of people. The implied message is clear. We’re in a bull market so people are attempting to increase their percentage of compensation relative to revenue (we’re using a wide range of 10-20%). All of these people will be fired in the next 2-3 years.
Lets say you’re currently being paid 14% of total revenue while all of your peers are being paid 17-20%. The answer is simple. When the next round of layoffs come you should attempt to “land grab” from the 20%ers that have enormous books of business. This will make it incredibly easy for you to see a hockey stick improvement in your total income.
If big wig person A is making $1.5M per year and you’re cruising along at $500K while generating more revenue on a relative basis. You are a clear and obvious candidate to displace person A in an environment that needs to be right sized.
You only push for a higher percentage when you’re ready to quit because you’re next in line to be pushed out the door (regardless of your fake performance reviews).
Playing Dumb as a Manager
A good manager is a happy one who never says anything negative about his team. This is where you want to be. Never say anything negative about anyone associated with you and simply prevent them from gaining traction on your actual revenue source. Easier said than done, but it is achievable.
Most managers micromanage aggressively and attempt to “prove wrong” any work turned into them which adds additional stress to their lives. Waste of time. A smart manager will simply make tweaks by himself and let the person run with glowing reviews.
Why is it better to run like this? No one on your team will be able to honestly say you’ve done anything bad to them… giving you first dibs at important decisions. If someone is stellar with their work, you give them an opportunity to sabotage you on a low scale (if they don’t you can promote them) and if someone is a poor performer you simply say there is “no room for promotions” until they get the hint and leave.
How to Play Dumb with Friends
You Only Want Powerful Friends, the Rest Are Acquaintances
As noted at the top of this post, people are not created equal regardless of the sewage they forced you to drink in college. There are only two groups 1) future winners and 2) current winners. The rest? They encompass the masses.
If your friends are not in either group, they are going to drop off your phone eventually. You can attempt to keep them around for sentimental value (see feelings). But. The structure will break down eventually as your lives depart into very different directions (for better or worse).
1) Future Winners: This is the most under-served market in the world. Most people attempt to suck up at all times to powerful people… when they are better off networking with future winners to have a group of good business contacts in the future. It is incredibly easy to see if they are going to be future winners. Simply ask “Can I predict what this person will be doing next year?”. If you are correct, they are not worth investing in.
Future winners have the *highest* return on investment. Why? As they try to climb the ladder everyone else will try to drag them down. They’ll remember who was on their side when they were at the bottom.
2) Current Winners: The biggest mistake here is building relationships across the board. Not all winners are going to help you in the future. In fact? Most are insecure and negative people who won’t help you even if you deserve it. Do your best and ask “Is this person going to go to bat for me down the line?”. If the answer is yes then invest heavily. You can find the no answers extremely easily (if they are 40-50 they should have at least 5-10 success stories).
Now you’re probably asking… what does this have to do with playing dumb? Everything.
In a word? *Reciprocity*.
Future Winners: If you find a diamond in a pack of mediocre people (usually 1 out of every 20th student graduating from a target school) then you want to act as the information source. Provide the person with as much information as possible on all the topics he needs. In the future he’s going to remember it and add your name to his own rollodex of contacts. 5 years down the line you can hire him.
Why later? He’ll be ready for a promotion (likely burned once at a different firm) and the long standing history with you will create a solid foundation of trust. In short, you’re investing “blindly”. In reality… it’s actually an incredible investment for both of you while it’ll appear to be “dumb luck” in the future.
Current Winners: Similar to finding talent, finding a person in power who is willing to pull a coat is extremely rare. If you find one? The goal is to simply mirror or reflect, the person he was 10, 15 or 20 years ago in yourself. Once he sees that you’re essentially a version of himself many years ago he’s going to have a hard time *not* investing in your future.
The key to playing dumb in this scenario is to pretend you’re less versed than he is on a particular hobby or subject. If you’re actually better than he is at XYZ (lets use golf as an example), simply ask him for tips on your swing and report back later that you’ve improved at it *because* of his advice. The worst thing you can every do is ask for advice and not take it. Once advice is given and not taken, even once, he’s not going to bother wasting his time with you ever again.
Every word in this section is going to be extremely obvious for anyone of means (lets draw the line at $1M net worth). The vast majority of people won’t be able to execute on it. Pitfalls include: 1) trying to one-up people who are above them – relationship is ruined forever, 2) not handing over responsibility to future winners – need to give up control to free up time for more important items, 3) not doing background checks on the person they are networking with – wasting years of time investing in the wrong person and 4) wasting valuable time with dead weight friends – if they don’t change in 1-2 years they won’t turn it around ever**.
**As a side note, there are extremely rare situations where a person turns it around… But. It’s not worth the headache. For every last minute success story there are 10-15 other people who are worth your time.
Playing Dumb to Maintain Friendships
With the backdrop out of the way, you also need to play dumb in order to maintain friendships in the future. People in general are nosy. If you doubt this fact, then Facebook would not exist.
Once you have a set of people who are all successful on own (regardless of business line) you should always be impressed with any accomplishment they achieve. Never for a split second do you allow them to even *think* you’re not impressed.
If your friend makes an additional $5K or $20M in a year, you’re going to act like the person won the lottery and never ask for anything. No exceptions. Remember, under no circumstances do you ever reveal your income or worth. Nothing good ever comes of it anyway.
How to Play Dumb When Dating
Most guys are worried about gold diggers. Naturally, this means they are *absolutely* broke. Anyone who is well off knows that a gold digger cannot get “gold” if you are 1) never married and 2) never give her any actual money. Therefore… who cares? You want to play dumb about your actual worth and let her fill in the blanks without you telling her. As they say life is “sold” not “told”.
There is a material divergence here compared to the first two sections of the post. When dealing with money/business you want to lie down. Let other people show their cards before you bother proceeding and you want absolutely no one to know you’re well off. In fact it is better if they think they make more than you.
Dating is the reverse. Your only goal is to flash enough money to avoid being thrown into the potential husband category. This is art not science and we have a overview in our post on doing the opposite.
Pay off the following people: 1) hostess, 2) bouncer, 3) bartender and even 4) tipping an owner of the venue.
Now you’re *clearly* not a boring male who goes on dinner dates. Once that is good to go you adjust your wardrobe to be more loud and fun. Once you’ve established a “just for fun” vibe with a gregarious personality in a well dressed outfit… She’s going to figure out the rest by herself.
Playing Dumb Review
1) To beat a dead horse. Never tell anyone how much you are worth or make. Ever. If you are forced to? Lie down well below what the person makes (the person you are speaking to)
2) Be astonished at any financial accomplishment of a peer
3) In a business setting set a “trap” where you can back solve into numbers you need
4) “You’ve never heard about this and want to hear more” because “you just wanted to say” how impressed you are by their business
5) Careers are about return on investment and “land grabs” or client base. This is why many high performing people are laid off. They were at the top end of revenue generation, but also at the top end of percentage of revenue paid out
6) You have student debt. If you don’t? You do now that you’ve read this sentence!
7) You have lived in the same place your entire life according to everyone you meet
8) Your title is not indicative of pay because they don’t like you enough to give you money only enough to give you a “title”
9) People are not created equal and you want to increase your income not your “feelings”
10) Gold diggers are fantastic!
*As Usual Absolutely No Questions, No Clarifying Questions Either. They Will be Deleted with ZERO Exceptions. Interesting Value Additive Comments are Always Welcome.*