In The Trenches

Are you the smartest person in the room?

Published on March 23, 2015 Back to blog
If you're the Smartest Person in the Room, You're in the Wrong Room

Recently, while listening to a show on NPR, one of the guests commented, “If you’re the smartest person in the room, then leave the room.” When I heard this slightly modified version of the more common phrase, I thought, “Definitely!” and decided it would make for a great lesson in a blog post. However, as I sat down to write this blog, I began questioning the advice, and have come to the conclusion that no one should heed it.

First of all, in theory, if the “smartest” person in the room actually left the room, there would eventually be no one left in the room. So, that doesn’t seem very effective, does it?

But, more importantly, how do you define the smartest person in the room? I was recently in a meeting with a group of people who, with advanced degrees from the likes of MIT and Harvard, were arguably far more intelligent than me. To be completely honest, there were times when I was challenged to keep up with the conversation. However, when it came to marketing (the reason for the meeting), I’d like to think I brought some intelligence that may have otherwise been absent. And each of my colleagues also shared perspectives that I was lacking. The good news is that no one left the room (well, one guy left a bit early, but for other reasons), and we were able to accomplish what we came together for.

The point is that we are all smart in our own ways. Whether it be educational training, skill sets, work history, personal experiences or cultural backgrounds, we each provide a unique perspective. There is no “smartest person in the room.” Instead, everyone in the room should be the smartest about a perspective that can contribute to the discussion.

So, today, I ask that we all heed new advice and offer this to anyone who steps into a meeting. “If you are NOT the smartest person in this room about something that can add value to the conversation, please leave the room.” (NOTE: Learners are also welcome, but should think about how they can positively contribute.)

Thanks for listening, and I look forward to being in a meeting with you soon. As always, please feel free to share your thoughts by commenting on my blog. And if you agree with the advice, please share it.


Jeff Freedman
CEO/Managing Partner
Small Army | Finn Partners