Looking stupid

. 1 min read

Good software engineering teams welcome “stupid” questions.

In an engineering team meeting, the company’s next fundraising round was being discussed. The phrase “Series A” was being repeated over and over.

This was going to be a milestone for the company, but the engineers couldn’t understand the finance jargon. I’m a former investment banker, and even I didn’t know what was being discussed. So I asked, “What is a Series A?”

I looked like an idiot. I’m supposed to be a corporate finance expert, and I asked a “stupid” definition question.

It wasn’t a stupid question though. “Series A” is a vague and undefined phrase to describe a special kind of equity raising for young companies. The phrase doesn’t give any indication of the amount of equity sold, the dollar amount raised, or the terms of the investment.

Native speakers have communication blind spots. We are too afraid to look stupid, so it’s easier to quietly sit and hope nobody notices.

In Berlin, I was the only native English speaker on the engineering team. We asked “stupid” questions all the time. We weren’t afraid to ask what a phrase meant, to repeat a sentence, or to explain an idea in an alternative way. It was unintentional genius - clarifications never attracted judgement.

My fellow native English speakers: don’t worry about looking stupid. The risk of misunderstanding is far greater.

Photo by Michael Dziedzic on Unsplash.