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The Dumbest Guy in the Room


If I tell you something will happen in “Q3,” you instinctively know I’m talking about the third quarter of the year. You don’t have to think about it. There’s no Google search or street shout-out to crack the code.

The expression is common. Like my taco cravings.

But there was a time when I didn’t know what “Q-[some number]” meant. I once was in a meeting where I had to screw up the courage to ask the presenter about it.

It was sometime in the late ’90s — probably ’98. We were in the editorial conference room at The Orlando Sentinel, where a rep from some long-forgotten software vendor talked to a group of us about a new content management system.

There are moments in my life that are frozen like a snapshot. I know exactly when it was, who was there, and what happened.

This moment ain’t one of those. It’s pretty hazy.

All I’m left with more than two decades later is a vague recollection that the guy doing the presentation was a little too slick. I’d say his menu description was, “a disingenuous center wrapped in a smarmy outer layer and marinated in Drakkar Noir.”

The man wasn't on the same wavelength as a room full of editors and internet dorks. Or at least he wasn't on mine.

Queue the Confusion

As Mr. Slick went through his presentation, he kept referencing things that would happen in Q2, Q3, and Q4.

What the hell is he saying? What’s all this “Q” talk? The dude is throwing down some elite business-speak I can’t comprehend!

Everybody else in the room was nodding along. I was the only one who didn’t have the secret decoder ring. Either that or I was the dumbest guy in the room.

I needed to know.

If I didn’t ask the question, then the whole software rollout might get catawampus when I drop the ball on my “Q” responsibilities. So I jumped in when Mr. Slick paused to take a breath and freshen up with a spritz of Drakkar.

“What do you mean when you say ‘Q2 or Q3?’ ”

In what I gratefully heard as only a slightly condescending tone, Slick said he was talking about the second quarter and third quarter of the year.

THOSE terms I knew. I saw the light. Everything made sense.

You won’t believe what happened next. [Hey — I might have a future writing clickbait headlines.]

Suddenly there was an outbreak of exaggerated head nods and barely audible exclamations of, “ohhhhh.”

Bastards! Most of my colleagues didn’t know either.

That was the day I discovered I was OK with asking stupid questions. If I’m sitting there wondering what something means, then someone else probably is, too.

And thoughout my career in online publishing and tech startups, I’ve had plenty of practice playing the “I don’t understand” role.

I was frequently a clueless guy in a jargon-filled world. It seemed like every meeting with a database developer, software engineer, or VP of sales gave me the chance to get clarity on an acronym or term.

  • DLL

  • SaaS

  • ROI

  • A/R

  • LOI

[Dynamic link library ... software as a service ... return on investment ... accounts receivable ... letter of intent.]

The more I asked, the easier it got.

Do yourself a favor and ask the question when you don’t understand what someone is saying. You’re just gumming up the works otherwise. The embarrassment is temporary, but the knowledge you gain lasts forever.

Unless you’re telling me you didn’t know “ROI.”


How embarrassing for you.

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John Terry