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The Young and the Clueless

I’m sure we've all had our clueless moments. As I’ve gotten older, my occasional high-profile clueless moments have been replaced by a more-pervasive existential haze of low-grade cluelessness. I’m not sure that’s an improvement, but it gives me an excuse to point out others’ cluelessness and laugh cruelly at them. I know, I know, people in glass pots shouldn’t kettle black...

Here’s an example that’s excusable for two reasons. One is that it happened before there was Google. Of course, it could happen today, but if it did, it would represent truly negligent cluelessness. The other is that the incident made for such an engaging anecdote. If you screw up, admit the truth and the world will laugh with you, not at you.

Michael Bierut tells the story of calling world-famous photographer Arnold Newman, not knowing who he was, to shoot a portrait for a brochure. Newman was gracious and even sent over his portfolio of portraits on request—of Kennedy, Picasso, Marilyn Monroe, etc, etc, etc. Newman didn’t get the gig—too expensive. Read Michael’s priceless reminiscence at Design Observer. And then read all the comments for more heartwarming stories.


I have no excuse for one of the biggest clueless blunders that I had made a few years ago. I was so embarrassed that I've blocked out the details of the reasons for the contact. What I do remember is that Walt Crawford, who's a senior analyst for Research Libraries Group (RLG)(, had contacted me at work, and had sent me a fairly reasoned criticism of something I had been working on. It was late when I had forwarded his message to my boss, and had made two very bad errors in judgment: first, that I had prefaced the message to my boss by saying "Some guy sent me this message..." and second, by accidentally cc-ing Walt Crawford himself. He sent a rather bemused email in return, saying that he considered himself to have enough credentials to be more than "some guy" off the street. When I realized who he was, I was mortified and wrote him an apology.

I must admit that it is very unlike me to be so careless with my correspondence.

too too funny. everyone's got stories like these.

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