How to be Smart at Being ‘the Dumbest Person in the Room’

Growing up, we’re praised for getting good grades and doing well in school. So it’s no surprise that many of us might scoff at being told to aim at being ‘the dumbest person in the room.’ Not really the soundest advice, is it?

However, consider the endless instances when you’ve been around people who want to be the smartest at a meeting, or on an email thread. Their need for approval can become a detriment to any progress. Ironically, the most successful people are actually the ones who want to be the ‘dumbest’ at the meeting.

While highlighting your intelligence may seem important for your career or management, the opposite is true. Instead, by focusing on trying not to be the smartest person in the room, you’re more likely to be the most successful. Allowing others to be the ‘smartest; enables better input, more creative ideas and improved team performance. Here are some guidelines for how to be the smartest ‘dumbest’ person in the room.

Surround yourself with the best people available. Great people generate great results and you need to be willing to surround yourself with great people. These top performers are the ones who will drive success.

Everyone has good ideas. No matter how smart any one person is, there are millions of other very intelligent people on all levels, from the best physicists to the smartest marketers to the best product managers. While you may have some very creative solutions to a problem, do not think that others in the room do not have even better ideas. Letting everyone speak and respecting their ideas gives you the option of selecting the best one.

Great leaders are not great at everything. If you are a great leader, there is no way you are also great at every functional area you are responsible for. You may have wonderful leadership skills, but you should enable your team to do their best and defer to them as experts rather than trying to tell them how to do their work.

Measure on results, not sound bites. The measure of success of a meeting, or a working group, or an email thread is not how smart it made you look but that it generated the best possible results. These results are what will also drive your long-term success, not how much you impressed the others at the meeting or on the email.

Rather than trying to sound the smartest at a meeting, you should aim to be the dumbest. It is more important to surround yourself with great people who will bring performance to a level higher than any individual can achieve.