When You’re the Smartest One in the Room

Smart, brain, thinking.

June 12, 2018 — By Jerry Roberts

The quote goes something like this: “If you’re the smartest person in the room, you need to find another room.”

Of course I’ve only heard about this, it’s never happened to me personally. My wife and all former co-workers will gleefully attest to that. So what does this statement really mean?

Question: If you want to learn more about a certain topic, do you mingle with people who know more about it than you do, or less?

Well, that’s obvious. Our knowledge grows when we spend time with those who know more.

If your goal is to be a professional golfer, you’re not going to play regularly with a group of once-a-week hackers who struggle to break 100.

I’ve known supervisors who have said they want to be better team leaders … but they don’t connect with other, more successful managers.

Spending time with achievers

Business philosopher and motivational speaker Charlie Jones said: “You will be the same person you are today in five years but for two things: the people you meet and the books you read.” Basically the same idea. You have to spend time with achievers, people who have specific knowledge that will help you grow, and who have walked the challenging path you want to follow.

This is not just for managers. If you want to be a better mechanic, hang out with better mechanics. If you want to be a better cook, get in with more accomplished cooks. A new admin assistant? Squeeze yourself into a group of admins who’ve been doing the work for years.

From a purely practical perspective, joining a more advanced “room” can accelerate your learning considerably as more experienced people share stories, secrets and advice.

You want to know what else they might share? Connections.

Those are serious benefits and many people say that’s what they want, but they don’t do it. Why not?

Fear? For some of us … yes, the uncertain scares us. Success scares us, because it comes with a need for renewed commitment.

And for many, commitment is 10-letter, four-letter word. We cringe at its very mention.

You have to spend time with achievers, people who have specific knowledge that will help you grow, and who have walked the challenging path you want to follow.

We’re content with our life as it is and don’t want to leave the comfort zone. We know that growth won’t happen until we do that, yet we grit our teeth just the same and turn away.

For others it’s different. They don’t want to be accused of having a big head and that they’re too good to hang with the old crowd any more. Lots of peer pressure can be brought to bear, particularly in a small community like Guam where so many friendships go back 20, 30, 40, 50 years and more.

Now look, nobody said you had to give up your old friends. However, if you want to grab the brass ring you’re going to have to reach for it.

Where growth and change happen

You’ll have to spend less time in that old and familiar room, and more time finding a new one where your knowledge is the least of anyone’s, and where you’re learning all the time. That’s where the greatest growth and real change can take place.

If you have a good handle on who you are and what you want in your career and life, you’ll know how big a bite you want to take of all this. Take a little, take a lot … dismount when you’ve had enough.

When your knowledge and talents expand – and your career takes off – it’s OK to go back to the old room and share some of what you’ve learned with the folks who know you best. Then, everybody benefits and that’s a good thing.


To learn how to bring the powerful values in this post to your organization, click here.

If by chance you’re no longer welcome in the old group and the people there don’t share your interests in growing, then, tough as it is to swallow, maybe you’ll come to the realization that it was never the right place for you. Wish them well as you continue to move forward.

One last point: This process isn’t necessarily a one-time event. Every time you find yourself the smartest one in the room, you can find a new room and start over.

Originally published in the Guam Daily Post, where J erry Roberts’ column, The Work Zone, appears each Tuesday.