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Why Being the Smartest In the Room is the #1 Reason We Stay Stuck

By May 17, 2021No Comments

Learning mindsetHave you ever found yourself in a conversation where you felt completely out of your depth?

What about in a learning environment and feeling like the most stupid person in the room?

This is exactly how I felt sitting in a classroom at Harvard Kennedy Business School with 60 people from 22 different countries – out of my depth and stupid!

I was reminded of this feeling on Friday when talking to my good friend Kiri-Maree.  She has just completed a 3 week online program with Harvard and felt exactly the same at the start. But we both reached the same conclusion. That pushing through our learning barriers, challenging our own thinking and embracing an intentional willingness to be stretched and challenged by others enabled us both to reach a new frontier of knowledge.

We all have our strengths and weaknesses, successes and achievements.  But if we’re not careful, pretending that we know everything, that we are the smartest in the room is a very dangerous place to play.  When we think we know everything we are actually shutting ourselves off from learning more.

“If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.”

This wise quote has been attributed to everyone from Lorne Michaels to Marissa Mayer and several variations have been quoted by other successful leaders including Michael Dell, founder and CEO of Dell Inc. Michael  gave a speech at the University of Texas in 2003 and said, “Try to never be the smartest person in the room. And, if you are, I suggest you invite smarter people… or find a different room.”

As business owners and leaders, the trap of seemingly knowing everything can be all tempting. After all, we’re at the top of our game, we have teams who come to us for advice, we have clients paying us to help them achieve more and colleagues asking us how we made it this far.

If we’re not careful, we put this pressure on ourselves to know everything… but that’s not what we need. And that’s definitely not what we need if we are to find the answers to navigate the ever evolving and adaptive world we are living in right now.

We need to get comfortable with saying, “I don’t know” or if that feels too vulnerable, “I don’t have enough information to form an opinion yet,” could be a better option.

And we have to be brave enough to reach out, to surround ourselves with teachers and influencers. People who stretch our thinking, challenge our ideas and encourage us to push further and to keep learning, because they know that this constant curiosity creates real opportunity for growth, achievement and success.

There are so many benefits to surrounding yourself with people who are smarter than you.

1. We are smarter together – by allowing others to fill in the knowledge gaps we raise the collective bar higher.

2. Signal your confidence – by asking questions and seeking out other inputs this lets others know that we have a level of self awareness and self confidence to know that we aren’t perfect and don’t need to pretend to be. Taking this bold move shows you’re secure in who you are and the position you hold. Asking for help or input is grand display of confidence and character.

3. Embrace the opportunity to learn – by embracing a life of continuous learning you are welcoming personal and professional growth in to your world. Let others take the floor to educate us in their area of expertise. Get curious and seek out the sparks of inspiration, the difference of opinion, the diversity of thought and insight.

No matter how long we have walked this earth, no matter how many degrees we have or how many keynotes we’ve sat through, there is always room for learning and there is always room for personal growth.

And that’s the secret to continued growth in our business and ourselves. LEARNING!

Learning is a self-directed desire and a choice. You must choose to keep learning if you want to keep growing – it’s as simply as that.  And you must choose the right Teacher to help you.

Harvard professor, Linda Hill says,

You can’t think of something new unless you are being pushed to think in new directions, and you can”t do that unless you are engaging with people who have a different viewpoint.

So here are 3 things I want you to think about this week to find opportunities for life-long learning.

1. Find a Teacher

Teachers help you develop knowledge, wisdom and foresight, to know more.  Think about what you are trying to achieve this year and take a moment to consider whether you have the right Teachers around you. They should be stretching your thinking, bringing fresh ideas and insights to the table, pushing you to think better, think deeper and think differently.  Read more in this blog. 

2. Start practicing saying “I don’t know”

This one can be scary. It’s a release of control in some ways and that can understandably be unsettling. So first start by practicing with friends and family who are likely to be the safest spaces for you. Then as you practice it will become a natural response even in more high stake environments.

3. Write down the new things you learn each day this week

Much like the practice of writing daily gratitudes in your journal to keep you present and grateful for what you already have, taking the time to reflect and identify what you learn each day is a great way for it to be on quick memory recall. Whether this looks like writing it down in a diary, a note in your phone or repeating it in conversation later that day it’s a great way to keep your brain active and receptive to learning.

Until next week

Janine Garner


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