“If you’re the smartest person in the room, find a different room.” (Richard Rusczyk), as seen on a recent post to the Jack’s Winning Words blog.
Richard was not trying to be cute or sarcastic in his little quote; rather he was saying that you need to keep finding people who are smarter than you, so that you can keep learning from them. OK, there is probably a little underlying cynicism in that quote that has to do with even thinking that you are the smartest person in the room to begin with. Remember where the smartest people in the room at Enron ended up – in a tiny prison cell where they might be the only person in the room.
I get to go to a lot of mixers and networking event in my role as an Ambassador for the Huron Valley Chamber of Commerce. The people you meet at those events always seem to have something interesting to talk about and I often learn something new. Once everyone overcomes the natural shyness that comes with walking into a room fill mostly with people that you don’t know it can become a very rewarding experience. Part of my “job” as an Ambassador is to seek out people who are new to the group and introduce them around. It is usually fairly easy to spot the people who are off to the side with that “deer in the headlights” look of bewilderment in their eyes. Once they’ve met a few people and get into the conversations they are usually OK.
We all learn something from our interactions with others. Usually it is initially about them, their background or family or where they live and went to school; but, eventually you wander off into topics that contain new knowledge for you, perhaps starting with their opinion about something and then on to why they have that opinion – what basis in facts do they purport to have for having reached their conclusion. You may have the reaction of “I didn’t know that” or you may store the so-called facts away and think to yourself that you will check them out later, because you don’t believe that they are true. No matter; you’ve learned something or you will in your follow-up research about the “facts” that you’ve just been given.
There may be occasions when you are, in fact, the smartest person in the room, in some sense; however, there are literally no occasions that I can think of where you cannot learn something else from someone else in the room. If you do not understand that and at least try to learn by interacting with the others in the room, you may, in fact, be the dumbest person in the room. So, you don’t have to find a different room; you need to do a better job of interacting and learning in the room that you are in.
Look around you and see the possibilities of learning from those who are in the room with you.