Archive for December 28, 2008
While writing What Is Class? Parts I and II, I had almost gone down the path of discussing “The Dumbest Person In The Room” concept, however I stopped short as what was meant to be a sidebar quickly took on a life of its own. Furthermore, a reader had made a comment to the effect of surrounding yourself with greatness in response to my Snow & The Snowball Part III article. Given the timing of the comment this seemed an appropriate time to discuss this topic.
The Dumbest Person In The Room
Throughout my career I have always tried to position myself as “the dumbest person in the room.” At first glance this may appear to be repulsive, especially to professional minded readers of this blog, however there is a method to my madness. When first entering a group, company, or organization and if in fact you are the dumbest, or to be kinder, least knowledgeable in a subject matter, there is a tremendous learning opportunity – nearly everything and everyone you come into contact with is a new experience – if you take in the knowledge like a sponge and properly apply it – you have nowhere to go but up. On the other hand, if you are the smartest person in the room, you are pretty much topped out and really there is a risk you may be dragged down by your environment.
The smartest person in the room is the most comfortable position and as a result the least challenging. Lobsters (see The Power of Positive Part II for more on lobsters ) are most comfortable in this environment because it is easiest to stay on top and keep others down. Conversely, the dumbest person in the room is downright uncomfortable – at least in the beginning – however this is where the most learning takes place. Like anything else worthwhile, this is challenging, however the rewards are great.
In my career I have found once entering a situation I would be the least knowledgeable – on purpose, and then over time gain enough knowledge to gain mastery of a subject or situation. Once upon a time I was a young man in the United States Marine Corps (USMC) and was newly promoted to the rank of sergeant. Once promoted I had the opportunity to attend the Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) academy which is basically a leadership school. While attending I learned at least one valuable lesson that I have carried with me throughout my military and civilian career passed down from an instructor – “a little bit of stress is a good thing.”
The idea being not too much, not too little but just an optimal amount. If you are not at least a little stressed, you are not growing or in other words, stretching. When you position yourself as the dumbest person in the room you will likely be uncomfortable – but this is not a bad thing. You are in essence, growing and stretching, and in turn positioning yourself for bigger and better things. After some time has passed you will transition from being the dumbest person in the room to the smartest and it will be time to move on. There is not a set time, but you will know based on your feelings towards a given situation – just trust your instincts.
Concerning your feelings on a group or situation – are you empowered and energized? Admitted it is difficult to position yourself in situations where you are empowered and energized, however it is well worth the effort. In situations where I am growing and stretching I feel a burst of energy, although there may be a bit of uneasiness about the unknown, the overarching emotion is excitement and motivation. Conversely I have experienced environments and projects with minimal challenge or growth – uneasiness was missing, but so too was the excitement and motivation.
This ties in perfectly to the concept of “marrying up” that I had introduced in Snow & The Snowball Part III. In surrounding yourself with people in either your personal or professional life you should attempt to position yourself with others who bring something to the table and you learn from just by mere association. Again, this has nothing to do with wealth, fame, or success, but has to do with intangible qualities such as class and your feelings in a given environment or group – are you empowered and energized?
Strive to be the dumbest person in the room!