The Smartest Person in the Room

1 minute read


I work and interact with a lot of smart people. Some of them have masters or even doctorate degrees or even multiple graduate degrees. Others haven’t even graduated from college, but just talking to them feels like I’ve raised my IQ. Other people just amaze me with their ability to see a problem and come up with an elegant, clean solution. Then there are the people who seem to both energize and demoralize the energy in the room. These are what I’ve heard referred to as the iconoclasts. They challenge the current status, and can be a great force for change, but only if they do it right. All too often, however, I’ve seen some of these people destroy not just the institutions but also the people in those institutions. In most all of the iconoclasts I’ve met there is a certain lack of humility or willingness to acknowledge the ideas or opinions of others. They tend to think of themselves as superior because of their tightly held beliefs.

These very attitudes undermine their ability to be effective change agents. If they are in a position of authority they can be very motivating, driving toward a compelling vision of the future. If they keep their ego in check and don’t attack the very people who they are leading, they can inspire and energize a team, company or even the world. The problem is that if they let their ego get in the way, they end up thinking they are the smartest person in the room all the time. They get the idea that the vision they have is a measure of their intelligence and do not understand that having a vision is just one way of being smart.

I’ve met a lot of smart people in my life but the smartest ones seem to be those who know how to work with others and leverage the strengths of those around them to accomplish a worthwhile goal. Those people and the teams they lead end up being more effective in the long run than any other team or individual.

And that’s smart.

The image, titled “Partcipants at the the livestock and fish Ethiopia group wrokshop”, was taken by “ILRI”. You can find it on flickr.