You should always try to be the dumbest person in the room.
Being the dumbest person in the room means that you can spend all of your energy on solving the problem at hand, rather than trying to maintain your picture of status.
Here are some of the advantages of acting like the dumbest (most junior) person in the room:
- You can ask questions. You don’t have to worry about whether people think it is a foolish question. “What if we turned the whole device sideways?” “What if we used labour from a province with the highest unemployment rate?” Questions that aren’t from ‘smart’ stream can shake people’s problem-solving ability.
- You must rely on other people to help solve the problem. If you are aware that you cannot solve the problem because you don’t have all of the skills or intelligence to solve it by yourself, you are forced to rely on other people’s skills. This does two things:
- It encourages others to be contributors to the project. Rather than assigning work, it means that others must take an active part in making the project a success.
- It gives you the chance to make an honest assessment of what capabilities you have as a team. Knowing what you can do will help as you move things forward.
- You can focus on the problem at hand, not politics in the room. If you are the owner of the company, it isn’t helpful to anyone if you never make any decisions because you think that people are smarter than you. But when you are working on any specific issue, you can take an apprentice attitude and learn from those around you. Being the dumbest person in the room allows your team to shine and come up with collective solutions that are better than anything you could think of yourself.
Any time you manage a project, you bring skills to the table that will help people finish the project so that it delivers the value you need. You will also need to bring your humility to the table to help everyone make decisions together in a way that helps everyone be as smart as they can be.