What does "dare to be dull" mean?
Is it a common cliché? If so, what are the situations in which people use it?
If it's not a familiar phrase, how does a native speaker make sense of it?
I heard it on a video. It is at about 23:30.
Q: What does "dare to be dull" mean?
Q: Is it a common cliché? If so, what are the situations in which people use it?
Q: If it's not a familiar phrase, how does a native speaker make sense of it?
Answer: I'm not a native speaker, but I believe that native speakers would understand this the same way I do. That is, if I heard this out of context, I would understand it literally: "Dare to be dull", that is "Don't be afraid to act as if you're dull".
Having said that, the audience in the video would understand his maxim "Dare to be dull" as clear as day because he clarified it for the audience. Before he said the maxim, he prepared the audience the concept (by contrasting "react" to "response", and mentioned that "to react ... takes too long and it's too thoughtful"). After tossing out the maxim, he also unfolded it a little more: "Rather than striving for greatness, dare to be dull. ... Because you over-evaluate, you over-analyze, you freeze up."
Note that this dull doesn't mean "boring". Dull in this video means "not smart" (or "not intelligent"). Smart people think. The speaker said it's better to do the opposite: don't think.
Here is the transcription of the video from 22:49 to 24:19. I include it here to show how easy the maxim (Dare to be dull) is in the context.
22:49 - You're training yourself to get out of your own way. You're working against the muscle memory that you've developed over the course of your life with a vain, a brain that acts very fast to help you solve problems.
22:59 - But in essence, in spontaneous speaking situations, you put too much pressure on yourself trying to figure out how to get it right.
23:08 - So a game like this teaches us to get out of our own way. It teaches us to see the things that we do that prevent us from acting spontaneously.
23:19 - In essence we are reacting rather than responding. To react means to act again. You've thought it and now you're acting on it. That takes too long and it's too thoughtful. We want to respond in a way that's genuine and authentic.
23:36 - So the maxims I would like for you to take from this, and again these maxims come from improvisation, is one of my favorite.
23:42 - Dare to be dull.
23:45 - And in a room like this, telling you dare to be dull is offensive, and I apologize. But this will help.
23:51 - Rather than striving for greatness, dare to be dull. And if you dare to be dull and allow yourself that, you will reach that greatness.
24:02 - It's when you set greatness as your target, that it gets in the way of you ever getting there. Because you over-evaluate, you over-analyze, you freeze up.
24:12 - So the first step in our process today is to get out of our own way.
24:17 - Dare to be dull.
I didn't watch the video, but it is a play on a whole series of "Dare to be..." statements. I've heard "Dare to be different", "Dare to be you", "Dare to be strong", etc.. They all mean that you should have the courage to do something you are a little afraid of doing.
"Dare to be dull" is a little funny. It made me laugh when I read it. We don't normally encourage people to be boring. From the video, you'll need to figure out whether in context this was meant as a joke, or whether the person was earnestly telling people to have the courage to be boring if that is who they are.