Everybody was wearing a t-shirt with a tech company’s logo, except me. I wore a suit that day with no tie and didn’t get the memo.
I walked in a few minutes late which was unusual given my social media profile that promoted being ten minutes early to meetings. The agenda was a “cloud talk.” Otherwise known as tech talk. I was the least “cloudy” person in the room. The breadth of experience was astonishing. They should have left me off the invite as the dumbest person in the room by twenty marathon miles.
“So, what’s your view on our cloud strategy? Where does it need tweaking?”
At that moment, when you’re the dumbest person in the room, you have two options:
- Escape using the emergency exit of a fake incoming phone call.
- Sit there and be proud of your dumbness. See it as an achievement or even an opportunity.
I chose option two. It was a strategy that came from an Ex-Google employee. (I’ve forgotten his name but it doesn’t matter.)
In an interview four years ago, he explained that he got the opportunity at Google to be a senior leader by sitting in meeting rooms and being the dumbest person. As the dumbest person, all he could do was offer to take notes and sit there and look smart. His job, as he saw it, was to sit there and pretend as he should be there.
When I heard his story, I thought to myself, “Ain’t that some amazingly powerful advice anyone could use in their life.”That moment changed my life. It made me think a lot about being the dumbest person in the room. My mission in life changed from that point on.
Here’s why you should be proud of being the dumbest person in the meeting room.
Comfortable people don’t make you grow
If all you do is have comfortable meetings with people you’re friends with or who have less skill/experience than you, you won’t get anywhere in life.
It’s easy to sit in a meeting room with your Ugg Boots on and not give a f*ck because everybody around you knows how smart and experienced you are.
Anyone of us can sit in that room all day long. We can even show off our smartness and ask ridiculous questions to throw people off and entertain ourselves. That meeting room is your comfort zone.
Seeking to grow is a different goal. It’s not some self-help, law of attraction mumbo jumbo. Growth in life is accepting it’s okay to be the dumbest person in the room. Here’s a physiological reframe for you:
When you’re the dumbest person in the room, you’re unofficially the person nominated to grow the most in the meeting.
It’s uncomfortable and scary to know your position in the meeting room and come close to the idea you could be kicked out or never invited to another meeting of this type again with the same smart people. But it’s also a huge growth opportunity.
If you continue this habit of being the dumbest person in the room, pretty soon, you won’t be. All that knowledge and wisdom will be absorbed into your mind if you pay attention and don’t look at your phone the whole time.
It’s impossible to be the dumbest person in the room forever if you keep putting yourself in meeting rooms with smart people.
You become like the people you spend time with. Spend time in meeting rooms with people smarter than you.
You’re not dumb; you’re learning.
The magic of the phrase “Dumbest person in the room”
Calling yourself dumb can seem offensive and unhelpful. People who tell you to love yourself can advocate against it. It’s helpful, though, because the harshness of the statement gets you into action.
Subtle instructions with mild language don’t help you learn anything. You’ll just glaze over that advice and yawn your way to five o’clock.
We can all picture the dumbest person in the room because we’ve each been there. It’s an image we can relate to and that’s what makes it such damn helpful advice you can follow.
You can just sit there and shut up
Being the dumbest person in the room might seem like a lame strategy that opens you up to all sorts of dire situations in your mind. The coolest part about being the dumbest person in the room is that you can just sit there and shut up.
Meetings often take their natural course where those who love hearing themselves talk will fill up the allocated minutes you could be questioned, for you. This is how you take advantage of the situation:
- Sit there
- Shut up
- Look like you should be there
- Pay attention
- Show genuine interest in the conversation with your facial expressions
- Let go of a few smiles (people are attracted to that and they don’t know why)
You don’t have to answer
What happens if you’re the dumbest person in the meeting room and the worst-case scenario happens and you’re asked a question you can’t answer?
You let there be silence. Perhaps someone will interject.
Or if nobody starts talking, ask them to clarify the question and don’t directly answer. Respond with, “That’s a tough question that needs some thought.”
Or you can repeat a piece of information that has already been said which relates to the question and then add nothing new. People won’t pick up on what’s going on. After all, they think you’re there and understand all the smart-talking going on. You don’t have to tell them you don’t. It’s your right.
You get to celebrate
At the end of the meeting, when you make it through (and you will), you’ll have something to celebrate loudly in your head. You did it! You’ll look back on the experience and be proud because you dared to dream.
You dared to imagine yourself as being as smart as the people you sat in that meeting room with. And because of that, one day, you will be as smart as them. For now, be proud of yourself.
Many people I have worked with over the years find being the dumbest person in the meeting room scary. They’re afraid to be found out. But as you can see from my career experience, you don’t have to be afraid.
It’s okay if you don’t know everything or are at the start of your learning journey. You’re doing the best you can and daring to be different.
You’re putting yourself in situations where you don’t know what to do and it’s those scenarios that will eventually make the trajectory of your life and the results you are able to achieve, superhuman — or even impossible.
Let’s all be okay with being the dumbest person in the meeting room so that we may be uncomfortable and grow from the experience.