“If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.” – Confucius
You’ve likely heard the quote and understand why you don’t want to be the smartest person in the room. But how about being the dumbest person?
How often do you seek and take opportunities to be the dumbest person in the room?
It’s intimidating and hard on your ego to be in a room of people that seem to know more than you about every topic of conversation: politics, investing, the stock market, travel, and business. If you don’t have much to contribute or fear looking ignorant, you might feel like you’re in the wrong room, but you’re not. You’re in the right room.
You want to be the dumbest person in the room as often as you can because…
- You’re networking with smart, powerful people: You’ve likely also heard the expression, “your network is your net worth.” You’re building valuable relationships with people that can help you grow, learn, and meet other powerful people. Opportunities come from relationships. Building relationships with people that have what you want is the first step to getting them.
- You’re learning for free. Show up ready to listen, ask questions, and soak up knowledge. You’re potentially learning in one hour what it took the people talking years of experience, trial-and-error, money, and education to learn. When you come ready to learn, being around smart people will make you smarter – for free.
- You’ll be challenged to grow. The smart people you surround yourself with weren’t always who they are today. They grew into that from taking risks, challenging themselves, and likely being the dumbest person in a lot of rooms. If you stick to rooms you’re comfortable in, you’ll never be challenged to grow. You can choose comfort or you can choose growth, but you can’t have both.
- You get to practice leaving your ego at the door. Surrounding yourself with people that are *insert comparison* than you is a humbling experience. The first step is admitting to yourself that you’re not on the same level and then not trying to pretend that you are. That doesn’t mean you don’t have anything to offer or can’t add value. It is quite the opposite. You were invited to be there because someone recognizes your value. Ego can cause you to miss opportunities, ruin relationships, and it can prevent you from being authentic. Leaving your ego at the door allows you to open other doors that lead to things that are much more fulfilling. The more you practice it, the easier it is to do.
How do you score your invite to be the dumbest person in the room?
- Ask: Ask your boss or mentor if you can sit in on a meeting or go to an event with them. If you don’t feel comfortable asking your boss or don’t have a mentor, ask another professional you admire. Tell them what you admire about their career or work and ask to learn from them. If they say yes, be gracious, on-time, and ready to listen. If you do ask and get rejected, keep asking. Asking might result in a “no” but not asking definitely will.
- Offer to help: Offer to take notes, bring in a meal, set up the audio/visual, research questions, or go for coffee runs. If there is an assistant already doing this, offer to assist them so they can leave early or take a break. If the timing is right, use the opportunity to introduce yourself and keep offering to help.
- Connect on social media: Connect with people whose careers you admire on social media and interact. Comment on their posts, read what they write, and see what events they attend. Attend the same events if they are open. If not, keep connecting online until you’re able to ask for an in-person meeting or an invite to somewhere they will be. Be sure you’re adding value and contributing on the same platform so they can get to know you as well. Not everyone will be responsive, but persistence pays off, and you will build relationships you would not have otherwise had access to if you stick with it.
- Volunteer: Volunteering is a great way to not only help your community but meet others who give back as well. While you shouldn’t volunteer for the purpose of networking or expect to meet powerful people, you often do connect with leaders in the community. Volunteering shows character, work ethic, and the desire to make a difference, and you can bet powerful people notice.
- Look for mutual connections: You’d be surprised how many people with whom you are connected through mutual friends. Dig into your network’s connections and see if they’re connected with anyone whom you’d like to meet. Ask your friend for an introduction or the best way to meet their contact. In exchange, offer to introduce them to someone in your network or provide value in another way.
- Befriend meeting organizers: From meetings in your office to industry events, there’s an organizer responsible for sending invitations. Look for ways to connect and build rapport with those organizers. Once you’ve established a solid relationship, request to be included in the meetings or events for which they’re responsible. Be prepared to share the reasons you’d like to attend and the value you bring.
- Say yes: When you do get the chance to be in a room with people you admire, don’t worry about imposing or feeling like you don’t belong. Say yes every time. Express your gratitude for being included, but be confident in your presence.
- Follow up: Always follow up with the person who invited you to the table or anyone you had the chance to network with. Thank them for the opportunity, share something you learned, and let them know you’d like to be included again.
- Look for ways to add value: While you may not be able to speak intelligently about the topics being discussed, you can add value in other ways. Perhaps someone is brilliant in business but not great with technology, and you can help. Maybe you can ask questions that offer a different perspective because you’re newer to the subject.
- Remember details: Remember details about the people with whom you’re interacting and if possible, write them down. Also, take note of the details of the conversations. Was there anything in the conversation you could research on and share with the group next time? If there’s a concept you want to know more about, write it down and plan to read more about it later. Remembering details will make the experience more valuable for you, and it will impress others in the room and show them that you’re interested and paying attention.
Don’t waste time pretending not to be the dumbest person in the room instead of embracing it, or worse, stick to a comfortable room. Either way, you’ll be missing opportunities to grow, network, and learn. Being the dumbest person in the room as often as you can is the smartest thing you can do.