The Stupid Shall (not) Rule The Earth

Ian Lurie

Every now and then, I start to feel optimistic. Civilization might actually last. We haven’t blown each other up. We’re inventing cool stuff. And Iron Man 2 didn’t suck.

Then something comes along to remind me that we are. all. doomed.

Exhibit A: A snail mail mistake that required a procession, nay, a parade of stupidity. And all the nubwits had to be exactly in sync to make it happen:

Scene 1: Storm clouds loom

Today, I received an envelope from a lawyer:

bankruptcy mailing

I get these now and then. It’s how the Universe recounts my moments of head-thumping idiocy: Times when I let a client go 3 months late on their payables, and then find out they just declared bankruptcy, leaving me holding the bag for mid-five-figures in cash.

This time was different, though. When I opened the envelope, I saw this:

blank ad page

Huh. An ad. Nothing about why this attorney* is contacting me.

*Who shall remain nameless out of some sliver of professional courtesy that hasn’t been beaten out of my by 15 years in this business.

I turn the page…

Scene 2: Anger

…and find a blank page. In fact, I find about 25 blank pages, one after the other:

blank pages

Now I’m pissed. Not only did I receive an important envelope full of nothing, some donkey butt wasted paper, postage and oxygen putting this together. But it got worse.

Scene 3: Bargaining

When I got to the last page, I saw this message:

notification of 44 blank pages

Blink. Blink. Someone wrote a piece of software that:

  1. Starts to print.
  2. Has some catastrophic brain fart so severe it can’t print a series of black-and-white pages so utterly devoid of creativity they’d suck the cheer out of a munchkin.
  3. Warns you it of said brain fart.
  4. And then goes ahead and prints 44 blank pages, but adds a single line of text at the top and bottom to preserve its own flailing mechanical sense of purpose.
  5. And, by the way, prints the wrong number of blank pages.

I tried, really hard to rationalize at this point. I couldn’t.

Scene 4: Acceptance

At first, I was inclined to curse the developers for writing such a piece of crap program. Then I realized they probably thought of this problem, tried to fix it and were told they needed to fill out 400 TPS reports first. Then they quit, or stripped naked, rubbed themselves with steak sauce and leapt into the nearest shark tank.

Before I got the Envelope of Despair, the following had to happen:

  1. Someone wrote the code that, in the event of an error, orders the printer to intentionally spew out 44 pages of blank paper, but with a 19-digit code on every page to ensure the paper is well and truly wasted.
  2. Someone else tested the code and decided this was OK.
  3. Another spongewit had to screw up their data entry just right, so as to break the report.
  4. Person 4, aka TheGoob, looked at the printed report and stuffed it into an envelope anyway; OR
  5. Person 4, aka StupidLawyer/Staff, didn’t bother to review the legal document before stuffing it into a First Class envelope and mailing it.

That cost the paper, the envelope, the time to stuff the envelope, the postage and the mail carrier’s time. Total of maybe $15. Doesn’t seem like much, I’ll bet. I mean, this kind of thing happens once in a lifetime. It was a celestial event: A perfect alignment of idiots.

Or: So many people are so stupid/helpless/unable to act that this kind of thing happens all the time. If that’s the case, I understand how building a 20-page web site can cost $40,000.

But that can’t be. If that were true, we’d have PR agencies reserving spam domains and using their own whois records, or oil companies who can’t cap leaking wells. CMOs would knowingly piss away $100k/month in sales, when 3 hours’ work could earn it back.

Oh yeah. All of those things happen.

But they don’t have to. No, they don’t. Even a cynic like me can see that.

There’s no excuse

Take the entirety of Conversation Marketing – every one of the 1360 entries I’ve written. There’s one message: You. Aren’t. Stupid. Unless you’ve got a lingering head injury, you have no excuse for letting this stuff happen. Use your brains, do a good job, contribute something of real value. It goes beyond earning money.

It means things run better.

It means you contribute more.

It might even mean things like fewer ridiculously top-heavy mortgages, fewer bankrupt companies and fewer credit default swaps.

Anything’s possible.

Ian Lurie

Ian Lurie is founder of Portent. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (25 years, if you're counting). Ian's recorded training for, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Smashing Magazine, and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, Seattle Interactive Conference and ad:Tech. He has published several books about business and marketing: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle, The Web Marketing All-In-One Desk Reference for Dummies, and Conversation Marketing. Ian is now an independent consultant and continues to work with the Portent team- training the agency group on all things digital. You can find him at

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  1. Your absolutely right…wouldn’t it be crazy how more efficient the world could be if people just thought a bit more about what they are doing and the consequences of their actions…we can but dream!

  2. I cannot believe so many errors were made, and I bet you were not the only person to receive it either, like you said, it’s no wonder so many businesses go under, Sally 🙂

  3. That is a classic. I just hope that the error you were exposed to was a known error that impacted only a handful of people – and that the decision was made to let it go rather than spend $xxxx fixing it just this once. But that’s just me trying to rationalise it.

  4. hey Ian,
    This post would be hard to believe if you hadn’t included the pictures as proof. Amazing.
    But it makes me wonder… I often get generic class-action-lawsuit letters informing me that because I may have purchased product XYZ between 1959 and 2009 that I may be eligible for a settlement of 29 cents… all I need to do is review twelve pages of fine print to find out what to do.
    Maybe I’d rather get an envelope with 25 blank pieces of paper. At least I could use them for scrap paper.
    Great post. Charles

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