I Am Not The Smartest Person In The Room

And you know what? I don’t need to be.

I’ve talked before about my IQ. That I have no idea what it is, whether it’s exceptionally high or decidedly average. Finding that out has never been interesting to me, because I don’t see any value in slapping a number on my brain.

I don’t generally like to think of myself as being smarter than other people. You know those stories that are about how tech genius X has announced some ground breaking thought experiment? That isn’t me. And it never will be. And I’ve got no problem with that.

Because here’s the thing. The smartest person in the room isn’t always the best thing to be. If you show or tell everyone that you’re the smartest person in the room, you might get the attention and the acclaim and the praise and the admiration and a fairly liberal serving of people who think you’re Gods. But what you wont get, what you’ll never get, is collaboration.

Collaboration is where great things happen. Collaboration is where the world turns on its axis. I’d rather be instrumental in making that happen than affect a whole lot of nothing and show that I’m a a genius while I do it.

What it really comes down to is this. You can be the smartest folks in the room. What you can’t do it shove it in everyone’s face and refuse to listen to all those people who you think are beneath you.

So here’s a story. It’s about my first job, working at a fast food joint in a little suburban wasteland. Every few months we’d have a crew meeting where the managers would sit down with the staff and the owner and talk about any issues in the store.

The way this usually went was pretty straightforward. The crew would raise issues with the managers, the managers would raise those issues with the owner in the crew meeting, and the owner would then explain that those issues weren’t important, that he owned 3 stores and that he knew how to run a successful business and we didn’t. Almost every time.

The managers could see that none of their concerns were getting any attention. So could the crew. Eventually, they stopped raising any of these issues with the owner, because they were sick of being ignored. Instead, they set up a log book of their concerns and every meeting they would give the owner the log book to read through. He’d give it back the next day and they’d know he hadn’t even opened it.

Instead he kept right on being the smartest person in the fucking room. Right up until head office came down to find out why his he couldn’t hold onto staff and the managers handed the logbook to them.

He wound up losing the store.

But at least he stayed the smartest person in the room.

You think that kind of behavior is rare? You think he was the only big man trying to throw around his superior intellect? No way. I’ve seen that in at least one person in every corporation I’ve consulted for. I’ve seen it in startups, incubators, agencies, charities, theater groups, punk rock bands and community church halls. I’ve seen it over and over again.

There’s often someone who wants you to know how much smarter they are. They dominate meetings, dominate phone calls, dominate the room and fill the available space with their “blue sky thinking” and when an idea breaks through the muck that didn’t come from the smartest person in the room, they manage to take a whole lot of credit for it just the same.

These people stifle creativity because they stifle the people around them. They don’t give anyone room to speak or brainstorm or feel out good and bad ideas to discover which is which. That can be death for almost any project. An ignominious death at that.

I really don’t have too much inclination to be the smartest person in the room. Me, I want to be the person who seeks the most answers. Who learns and grows and is challenged as often as he challenges others. There’s a lot more room to do great things if you can avoid the tempting trap of proving what a goddamn genius you are.

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Jon is the founder of Creatomic.

Jon works with creative people to help them do the work they love and become focused. Jon is incredibly excited about changing lives. You can reach out for a free coaching session by emailing jon@creatomic.co