If you are the smartest person in the room, here’s why you should go find a different room
Look around the room you’re in right now. Do you suspect you’re the smartest person in it? If so, go find a different room. It will change your life.
It’s a fairly common piece of career advice, and a very valuable one: surround yourself with people who are smarter than you.
Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer has an anecdote that sums up why: In 2011 Mayer, then Google’s VP of consumer products, told the Los Angeles Times what she calls her “Laura Beckman anecdote.”
She said, “She was the daughter of my piano teacher and a great volleyball player. She was given the choice of joining the varsity team, where she would sit on the bench for the year, or junior varsity, where she would start every game.
“Laura shocked everyone and chose varsity. The next year she came back as a senior, made varsity again and was a starter. The rest of the players who had been on junior varsity were benched for their entire senior year. I asked Laura: ‘How did you know to pick varsity?’ Laura told me: ‘I just knew if I got to practice and play alongside the best players every day, it would make me better. And that’s exactly what happened.’ The same thing happens in the professional workplace.”
People who are smarter than you make you up your game. Smart people make you smarter. They make you better. They spark interest and introduce you to new concepts, ideas, culture, people, and restaurants. They know where the good stuff is, like networking events, and career opportunities. And smart people, if they are truly smart, know the value of kindness and generosity and are likely to throw some of it your way, which you should do in return, because you are also smart and know that this sort of behaviour makes the world a better place.
How can you tell if someone is smarter than you? It’s hard, since we all think we’re pretty smart, but here are some signs that someone is the sort of smart person you should surround yourself with: they listen, they seek out knowledge, they’re engaged, they’re interested in the world around them, and they’re successful both socially and professionally.
That’s the sort of person you want to be around. Here’s how to make it happen.
Connect with people you admire on social media: Duh, right? Connect with them on LinkedIn, friend them on Facebook, follow them on Twitter. Then don’t just leave it at that – engage with them. Comment on and like their posts, answer their questions. Don’t be a stalker. Be cool about it. Many friendships develop this way. You can do it too.
Invite social media friends out for drinks or dinner. This is the next step. Crazy, I know! But it doesn’t have to be daunting. Maybe you have actually met these people once or twice in person, or maybe you only know them online. Either way, if you have two or three people who you think are interesting and clever, try organizing a small group. Don’t make it a big event. People are likely to just ignore those. But lots of people like to be approached by potential new friends. Send a message like, “You seem smart and interesting and I’m trying to meet new smart people. Let’s get together for drinks for an hour.”
Reach out to people whose work impacts you. If you read an article you like, send a message saying that you enjoyed it and why, or that you were intrigued by a particular point or insight. I have a writer friend who writes constant letters to journalists and book and blog authors. Often they write back, and he winds up being their friend or acquaintance and getting all kind of cool freelance work.
Volunteer. As I said, smart people know the value of being generous and you’re likely to meet a lot of them donating their time and resources to good causes. Another bonus is that you increase your hireability factor, some say by as much as 27%, by volunteering.
Go where smart people hang out. My husband met his business/creative partner at the launch of the Fellini exhibit at the TIFF lightbox in 2011. My husband was standing around talking to himself (I was far away, eating the free food) and his now friend decided to jump into the conversation (true story). We meet smart people at art shows, museums, and cultural events. Smaller art galleries almost always have free openings that anyone can attend. Go to conferences and if you see a speaker you like, talk to them.
Ask your smart friends for help. Ask them to take you places and to introduce you to their smart friends. Make sure they think of you when an event that might be suitable pops up.
Step out of your comfort zone. This is a big one for a lot of people. If you meet someone and they express a different opinion than you – say, a political one – try listening to what they have to say and not falling back on the assumption that yours is the only right opinion. A lot of people are very uncomfortable doing this. Don’t be. It’s a great way to meet people who are smarter than you.
Engage with everyone. Many of us have a tendency to dismiss people based on assumptions. I can’t count how many times I’ve been completely wrong about someone. Be open and engaged with everyone around you. And listen more than you talk. At the end of the day, everyone is smarter than you about something.
Got a tip for connecting with smart people? Share it with us.