I have seen many examples of people who want to be the smartest at a meeting, or on an email thread, but the most successful are the ones who want to be the dumbest at the meeting. While it may feel that the strategy of highlighting your intelligence is important for your career or management, the opposite is true. Instead, if you focus on trying not to be the smartest person in the room, you are likely to be the most successful. You will get better input, more creative ideas and improved team performance when you allow others to be the smartest.
Surround yourself with the best
First, you should surround yourself with the best people available. If your goal is to be the smartest, then you are not necessarily putting great people around you. Thus, their performance is likely to be sub-optimal. Great people generate great results and you need to be willing to surround yourself with great people. It is these top performers who drive success.
Not going to learn from yourself
If you spend most of a meeting talking or trying to impress, you are not learning anything. How can you learn when you are talking. If you are trying to find the optimal solution to a problem but focus the conversation on what you are saying, you will cap out at your best solution to the problem, not the best solution in the room. By letting everyone speak and respecting their ideas, you will have the option of selecting the best one. Assuming it is your decision, you then have the option of your best idea or your best idea plus all the others that are proposed. In a worst case, you can still proceed with your idea but now you have many more options.
Everyone has good ideas
If you look at all the fantastic ideas throughout time, you will see that there was not one (or even) a small group responsible for the majority of them. While Stephen Hawking wrote about singularity, Albert Einstein built the theory of relativity, Michio Kaku came up with string theory, etc. The point is that no matter how smart any one person is, there are millions of other very intelligent people. This phenomenon exists on all levels, from the best physicists to the smartest marketers to the best product managers. While you may have some very creative solutions to improve monetization, do not think that others in the room do not have even better ideas.
Great leaders are not great at everything
If you are a great leader, there is no way you are also great at every functional area you are responsible for. You may have wonderful leadership skills, and have risen to that position by innovating on the growth team and building a Unicorn. That does not mean you know analytics better than your lead analyst or finance better than your CFO. You should defer to the experts rather than trying to tell them how to do their work.
It is not only important to let other’s talk at meetings, it is more important to listen to them. Nobody is going to be motivated to talk if you are not listening. People can tell if you are asking them to talk just to check off a box or whether you and others are actually listening and digesting what they are saying. More importantly, you are not generating any additional value by having people propose ideas or raise concerns and then not addressing them.
The above point leads to a critical element of why you want to be the dumbest in the room, you want to leverage the suggestions and ideas everyone has. This is not an exercise in getting buy-in from everyone by pretending to listen to their concerns or advise and then going with your initial idea. The goal is to get the best comments from everybody, have the team work together to synthesize the suggestions into an idea superior to anything anyone (yourself included) initially had. Come out with a better idea, not a perceived feel good exercise that really puts you in the same position.
Measure on results, not sound bites
The measure of success of a meeting, or a working group, or an email thread is not how smart it made you look but that it generated the best possible results. These results are what will also drive your long-term success, not how much you impressed the others at the meeting or on the email (last thought, you didn’t impress them anyway but made them think you were pompous).
- Rather than trying to sound the smartest at a meeting, you should aim to be the dumbest.
- It is more important to surround yourself with great people who will bring performance to a level higher than any individual can achieve.
- You not only need to get input from everyone but actually use the input to come up with better solutions than you are initially proposing.