On Being the Smartest Person in the Room

I was lucky when I was young. I had a mother who was a teacher which meant education was valued. I was a nerdy, geeky kid who read a lot and she encouraged me. To this day, reading–and I mean long form reading, not reading Twitter posts and Facebook updates–is the single best thing you can encourage a child to do while they’re growing up. My mother did, and at some point she pointed me in the direction of an early program for gifted children in Toronto. I was accepted, and I got a great education in the public system. I was lucky.

I had teachers who were good, and and my classmates were very smart. Intelligence manifests itself in different ways. There’s no one definition of smart but suffice to say I was surrounded by it.

It was with that in mind that I read this article at the Harvard Business Review. In essence the article’s point is this: you might think you’re the smartest person in the room, but you might not be. Keep an open. Mind. Listen for new ideas. If I were going to choose one paragraph to summarize it, it would be this:

There is however, Dr. Baehr points out, a trait from the time-tested Big 5 Personality Assessment that helps fill in that gap. The trait is “openness to experience,” or a willingness to try new things or take in new information. If openness to experience means you’re willing to try pickle-flavored ice cream, intellectual humility means you’re willing to admit you like it, even if you initially thought you wouldn’t. A person who scores high on both of these will be likely to listen to people, no matter who they are, and have a kind of Ben Franklin-like cognitive flexibility after listening.

There’s no better lesson. At work, I collaboration is a critical tool. I’ve always bristled at the word Boss–we don’t work for people, we work with people. When I’ve managed people, the goal has always been to have the team do the best work it can. It’s not about me, it’s about us.

Don’t be the smartest person in the room. Be the person who makes everybody else smart with you. I went to school with some of the smartest people I know–we all benefitted from it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *