To Be or Not To Be: The Smartest Person In the Room

Conventional wisdom can benefit from a little nuance.

“If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.” — Richard Feynman

Are you the smartest person in the room?

If yes, conventional wisdom says exit at your earliest convenience. Surround yourself with people who will challenge and inspire you. The alternative is stagnation, decay and the busy work of feeding others.

If no, conventional wisdom says stay put and pay attention.

As with most things in life, the real answer is more nuanced. The proverbial room is a specific skill. You occupy multiple such rooms simultaneously in life. In some rooms you are comfortable with your current skill level. In others you want to improve.

When you are the smartest person in the room, you inevitably become a teacher. Everyone else fills out a skill hierarchy where they are either teacher or student depending on who they interact with in the same room.

Stay in the room if you need not improve. Help others progress. Teaching is an effective lens for you own understanding. You don’t even have to be a great teacher, just kind and open minded.

Change rooms if you need to improve. Being surrounded by more highly skilled people serves as a catalyst for your own growth. Be a small fish in a big pond once more. Continue the cycle until your are satisfied with your skill level.

Regarding intellect, being the smartest person in the room is a matter of perspective. Intellect is not a replacement for wisdom. Here, the smartest person in the room may also be a fool.

Should you be the smartest person in the room? The answer is simple: it depends.


🤔 Food for Thought:

Have you ever been the smartest person in the room (skill-wise)?

What aspects of being the smartest did you enjoy?

Did you ever switch rooms to improve?


⚙️ One Small Step:

Are you afraid to become a small fish in a big pond again? Focus not on what you will lose but on what you will gain. The discomfort you feel is a signal for growth.