The Joy Of Being A Noob

If you start believing in your greatness, it is the death of your creativity.

– Marina Abramovic

It is impossible to learn that which one thinks one already knows

– Epictetus

Paul Graham’s recent ‘Being A Noob‘ essay is a great, short meditation on the joy of inexperience. Graham nails the idea of ‘competence at existing problems over the discovery of new ones’ – how our fear of being seen as an inexperienced ‘noob’ is something we dislike and shy away from, stifling new opportunities.

In actual fact, learning how to be a noob – sacrificing the ego that convinces you you can’t show weakness or inexperience – is a good first step towards no longer being a noob at all.

Conversely shyness or an unwillingness to be seen as an amateur, or someone who is learning, is a surefire way to lock yourself into a pretty boring comfort zone, and miss a lot of chances.

“the feeling of being a noob is inversely correlated with actual ignorance”

Paul Graham

Graham’s angle – that admitting ignorance is the beginning of no longer being ignorant – is a nice take. Only through admitting (and relishing in) your ignorance can you begin to truly learn. As someone in his late twenties, my last few years have been a realisation that we can only develop and grow through understanding what we don’t know, and moving from a toxic ego-driven mindset to one of wonder and joy in learning new things. That transition requires a willingness to admit you don’t know things.


Wanting to have ‘life’ all figured out, and thinking there’s an expectation that you do


Realising not only is that not realistic, but that people much more grown-up than you don’t have it figured out either

“Though it feels unpleasant, and people will sometimes ridicule you for it, the more you feel like a noob, the better.”

Paul Graham

In a work environment, it’s also apt. Admitting you’re not sure about something – and helping to foster an environment where ‘I don’t know’ is a conversation starter rather than finisher – could be the key to developing a creative team more willing to share ideas. ‘Noobness’ is definitely connected with your willingness to fail – to have the confidence to risk putting yourself (or an idea) forward and being shot down. In that willingness, sometimes there are great creative or constructive ideas that would otherwise never be said out loud.

The limbo of not understanding things is a joy we stop allowing ourselves when we grow old – once we step out of the school or university, we suddenly feel a need to act like we’ve got it sussed, and not show the weakness of not knowing something. Social competitiveness, or arrogance? One thing I do know is that becoming comfortable with being a ‘noob’ might be a good first step.

Naval’s ‘Team That Ships’

As part of a team that creates ‘products’ (festivals and events) with a fairly standard roll-out and lead-time, I’ve begun to be fascinated with how development and deployment works in other industries and sectors.

While our campaigns for bluedot and Kendal Calling typically run over a recurring twelve-month with similar timelines and budgets, comparing what we do with the likes of the tech industry offers some great insight into how we could improve our approach. From this, our move to a new approach of ‘projectising’ within our campaigns – breaking our year into a series of mini-campaigns that each have their own brand, roll-out schedule, budget and marketing – has been a great first step towards a better, more rigorous way of operating.

One great example is Naval Ravikant’s great – if blunt – Build A Team That Ships from 2012. Naval’s piece offers some simple guidelines for how to build and team that builds and ships products on a weekly basis, with an agile, project-based mindset. Examples include…

People choose what to work on. Better they ship what they want than not ship what you want.

No tasks longer than one week. You have to ship something into live production every week – worst case, two weeks. If you just joined, ship something.

Peer-management. Promise what you’ll do in the coming week on internal Yammer. Deliver – or publicly break your promise – next week.

For Naval, building more strict structure is, of course, freeing – the first steps towards regimenting how teams and individual staff members operate ultimately result in an environment where staff choose to work on projects that they feel fit their own abilities best, and get the reinforcement of seeing their hard work delivered as products on a weekly basis.

Read Naval’s Build A Team That Ships