Byron's Babbles

Are You the Smartest Person in the Room?

Posted in Uncategorized by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on September 26, 2014


If you are like me, when you are in a meeting you make judgements on the knowledge of the others in the room. Sometimes this is based on someone who just has no clue as to what is going on. Sometimes this is based on me realizing I am the one that has no clue! You know if you are honest, you’ve been in both situations! Also, if you are honest, you’ve tried to make sure you are seen as the smartest person in the room. I’ll admit – its true for me.
I also always remember my dad saying, “The amount of talking someone is doing is not necessarily a direct correlation to how smart they are.” Gosh, he was a smart man!

So what does this really mean? Do we need to be the smartest person in the room? For me, I believe the most important thing is making sure we have done the preparation to be the most uniformed person in the room. In fact, those who know me know I often lead off with, “I may be stupid on this..” or “please tell me why I am wrong…” In a true collaborative and learning organization it is so important that everyone is learning from each other. The old adage that all of us are smarter than one of us is so true.

In my studies of Patrick Henry and reading Lion of Liberty I found that he was very self deprecating and never looked at himself as having all the answers. In other words he did not see himself as the smartest person in the room. In reality, however, he probably was always the smartest person in the room, but it was because he was making sure he was learning from everyone else that he became the smartest person in the room.

I also had to reflect about the statement made by Daniel Kahneman in Thinking Fast and Slow “People who have the most knowledge are often the most unreliable.” Now this unreliability is not referring to getting things done. It relates to being unreliable in terms of having the right answers. Sometimes those who are very knowledgeable become immune to realizing that they may be wrong or their answers might not be the best. We can look at this from a personal standpoint and from a listening to the experts standpoint. How many times have we done what the “experts” say and in reality there was a better answer.

It is also very important to remember that sometimes you will be the most knowledgable person in the room. But always remember that what might be obvious to you, may not be obvious to those you lead or those you are on a team with. You have often thought and studied far more about subjects than they have, so you must work to bring them up to the same knowledge level as you are. Think about the perspective of others because they are not at the same knowledge level as you. Recognize that you can ask your teams to share thoughts from their knowledge level. You may just find that you might be the most knowledgable person in the room, but you may not be the smartest in the room.

I would love for you to respond to this post with your thoughts.

2 Responses

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  1. Abbie said, on September 30, 2014 at 11:19 am

    I picked up the phrase “tell my why I am wrong’ from those 5 years of FFA and classes with you and use it in my classrooms today. I never realized how important that small shift from “correct me if I am wrong” is in opening up the conversation. I don’t want my students to take what I say at face value, I want them to prove it or tell me “hey, actually I don’t agree. This happened and makes it seem more like this is true.” Saying “tell me why” verses “correct me if” already implies that you know there are better answers out there.


  2. […] too because it retweeted several times. The comment also hit home because I just wrote the post, “Are You The Smartest Person in The Room?” a couple of weeks […]


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