Commentary

Are You The Smartest Person In The Room? (Hint: No)

Are you the smartest person in the room?

I can pretty much never say yes — but more often than not, I can tell who in the room thinks they are. Inevitably, they want everyone else to think it, too.  It’s an unattractive quality in a co-worker and one that creates lots of unnecessary tension.  

If you’re reading this column, you’re either in media, advertising or marketing.  You are surrounded by technology.  Whether you’re on the product side, the development side, marketing, creative, sales or operations, you know we work among some of the smartest people in the entire world, literally responsible for the development of the 21st century.  You learn from these people on a daily basis, and hopefully you teach them something in return.  It’s a mutually beneficial relationship, so why enter into the room with the attitude everyone else in the room is lucky to have you there?

Most people gain humility as they get older, unless they experience massive success early in their careers, in which case they tend to believe even more in themselves and their own abilities.  It’s a delicate balance — because in many cases they are successful because of their approach, but they overlook how many people they may have injured or rubbed the wrong way along the way.  They could have been even more successful by treating people better.

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I was having a wonderful conversation about this very topic last week. I typically attribute this problem to ego, but the person I was speaking to said it’s a matter of ambition. We never truly reconciled if you can have one without the other.  

Ambition comes in many forms and can be present in the most introverted as well as the extroverted. When you walk into a room full of people whose egos are driving their interactions it’s a very different feeling than one where ambition is what’s driving them.  Ambition can lead to more collaboration than ego, which tends to lead you to a place of conflict.

I bring this up because we are going through a unique time. In the workplace, you have interesting challenges as the media landscape continues to evolve across new channels; in contrast, we have consolidation that is focusing the dollars on a select few.  You have computers and automation riding hand in hand with data and analytics and new paradigms are being created every day.  Some of these make people very uncomfortable.  

We also have a political environment that is hard to read at best, and utterly frustrating at most.  

Improving things around you require ambition.  You could be an agency leader or a leader in your marketing org.  You may not be a leader — maybe you’re a front-line developer or someone embedded in the middle of the execution process.

Every one of you has a potentially groundbreaking solve to the problems in front of you, but you shouldn’t approach an issue thinking you’re so smart you absolutely know how to solve it. You not only demotivate the other people in that room, but you create an environment that cannot foster a truly effective solution.  People get put on the defensive and can no longer be present with the problem, because they are trying to defend another person’s view of them.  

Rather than trying to be the smartest, why not try to be the most inclusive or the most collaborative? Create a place where ideas are welcome and interaction is a requisite.  I think longer-term challenges will be more easily solved as a result.

Don’t you agree?

2 comments about "Are You The Smartest Person In The Room? (Hint: No)".
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  1. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, September 20, 2017 at 2:08 p.m.

    As long as the company does not put the cabash on you/your project/idea, you hit the bullseye.

  2. Steve Climons from Crossover Creative, September 20, 2017 at 3:28 p.m.

    Agreed. It's unfortunate with our new president (sorry to get political) it seems that behavior from inflated egos is acceptable even when it's not valid.

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