How To Be The Dumbest Guy In The Room
Everybody wants to be smart. Intelligent people are admired by others for their ability to retain facts, complete crossword puzzles and maintain scintillating conversations at cocktail parties. Nobody wants to look dumb.
That’s unfortunate. There are a lot of benefits to being the dumbest guy in the room. You get to encounter ideas that you never heard of before. People can explain things to you that you don’t understand. Dumb people can always be surprised and thereby discover new things.
It isn’t easy, though. Being truly daft takes a whole lot of effort and courage. However, it can be accomplished. Read on and I’ll show you how.
Hire and Retain Really Smart People
The first thing you can do is hire really smart people, which is more simply said than done. Those with tremendous intellectual horsepower can’t be lured with big salaries alone. They usually have an inner need to be stimulated and achieve great things. They’re curious about a variety of areas and don’t fit into easy categories.
Highly intelligent people also bore easily and need to be continually challenged. You need monitor not only their work, but also their energy level. If they are left in the same job too long, their performance will eventually suffer. Most of all, they need to constantly engage in freewheeling discussions with other smart people.
Very few managers attract and retain brilliant people simply because they want to be the smartest guy themselves. Make no mistake. If you are in a position of authority and can hire anyone you want, you should be the dumbest guy in the room. Anything else is truly moronic.
Another way to ensure that you are the dumbest guy in the room is to facilitate connections both inside and outside of your organization. By helping your people to connect with new people and
ideas, you will ensure that they will know a lot of things that you don’t.
There are a lot of ways to do this. Sending people to conferences is the most obvious, but by no means the only or the best way. Simply making introductions and encouraging staff to get out and meet people can work wonders.
Increasing connectivity within your organization can also be extremely effective. In the past, I’ve used a variety of ways to get people mixing. Graduate training programs can be a great way for young people to bond before moving on to disparate parts of the organization. Best practice programs give up-and-comers a forum to show off their best work, while at the same time diffusing valuable information.
Unfortunately, many managers want to be the “face” of their organization themselves and so miss opportunities for their people to build relationships that will bring new knowledge into the organization.
Change Your Context
We all have our own areas of expertise. Our experiences typically lend themselves to certain tasks at which we excel and make us feel satisfied and fulfilled.. Over time, we develop a comfort zone that’s hard to break out of.
I’m an unusual case. I’ve worked in five different countries in a variety of roles. Each new challenge has forced me to reinvent myself. I’ve had to learn new languages, skills and cultures. It’s often been difficult, however every new adventure has left me vastly better off.
Of course, when you find yourself learning and doing new things, you are going to look dumb and that’s uncomfortable. It’s always easier to stick with what’s familiar, but if you don’t stretch you become a slave to your context. Eventually, that paradigm will change and you’ll be left unprepared.
The Dumber You Look, The Smarter You Get
Marcus Aurelius once said: “A noble man compares and estimates himself by an idea which is higher than himself; and a mean man, by one lower than himself.” Jonah Lehrer makes a similar point in his book, How We Decide. He cites a study where students who are told they try hard outperform ones who are told they are smart.
As we progress in our careers, our sense of self importance increases. Others are more willing to listen to us and take our opinions seriously. It’s natural to get complacent when respect is so easily won with a job title and an air of authority.
What’s much harder is to constantly stretch yourself beyond your abilities. Inevitably, you will fail and look dumb. Hiring and managing super-smart people makes you question your own competence. Facilitating connections of others makes your own network less unique and changing your context is probably the most difficult thing you can do.
Yet the alternative is a mirage. You can close yourself off and be the smartest guy in the room, but only at the cost of your awareness of reality.
The world is a big place, with lots of stuff in it. If you are going to do more than just scratch the surface, you’re going to have to be the dumbest guy in the room sometimes.