I had the pleasure of being part of the TedxWaterloo team a few weeks ago. This was my third year, and I learn something new every time. The work is really hard for 5-6 months every year and we put on a heck of a show. The best thing about my role is the fact that I work with the speakers directly. This unrestricted access can get to a girl’s head really easily. Being the nerd groupie that I am, I couldn’t help but jump at the chance to spend an hour with each of them alone when Ford Canada offered to give us two Ford Escapes for 3 days. Up until then, most of my correspondence with the speakers was via email.
While we normally have a car service pick up the speakers from the airport, the car fanatic in me decided to go and pick them up myself, and show off the Escapes a bit. If you’re a regular reader, you know how I feel about cars. The Escapes were roomy (enough to shuttle 5 speakers back and forth from events), and had features that had me swooning. The best one being the blind spot sensor. My current car has a turbocharged engine in it which doesn’t bode well for me as I have a lead foot, but I found the Escapes to speed up at a steady pace. They were surprisingly really good on gas, too. The need to test out the cars, along with wanting to catch up and chat with some really really smart people lead me to the airport a few times.
At the wrap-up party, someone asked me what it felt like to be the dumbest person in the car, including the car. And while I could have taken that as an insult, I realized that it was true. I hung out with CERN Physicists, and NASA Engineers over those 3 days. And the car? Well the car detected if there was a another car in my blindspot.
Being in the role that I am in these days, I have the pleasure of meeting some incredibly interesting people. I, also, go out of my way to surround myself with people smarter than me at all times. That’s how we learn, right?
Take TedxWaterloo for example. One of my new favorite people was Robert Manning, NASA’s chief Engineer for Mars Rover. He is fascinating, entertaining, and extremely humble. He, also, has the ability to make everyone around him feel rather special.
As I mentioned above, I get to be in a lot of rooms with a lot of really smart people all the time, and I truly strive to be the dumbest person in that room. Not because I don’t feel like I have something to offer, but because I enjoy learning something everyday. And let’s face it, (smart) people like talking about themselves. Everyone does, but that also means that you get to learn more than you realize by just hanging around and asking questions.
Next time you’re at a conference, or at an event, find the smartest people (it helps to underestimate your intelligence sometimes) and strike up a conversation. Here’s why you need to do that once in a while.
1. You learn more. I ask people out to coffee all the time. I don’t need anything from them, but an hour of their time does wonders. There are some really smart and generous people out there.
2. You stay humble. I’ve enjoyed moderate career success in my life, so there is no better way to keep me grounded that being around smarter, more successful people. If I’m interested in learning about PR, I’ll spend time with the smartest PR reps I know. If I want to learn coding better (or understand it enough to be able to have conversations with my programmers) I spent time with them. Their generosity is unparalleled.
3. You watch others interact. Like I mentioned above, people like talking about themselves. This is the fastest way to get to know people in different environments. Here’s a trick I learned from my days working in customer service– people like you more if you can get them to talk about themselves. Its odd, but true.
I know we all talk about being known as the ‘EXPERT” in your field, and becoming the go-to guy, but realizing that are way smarter people than I in the world keeps me humble and hungry to learn more, to be more, and to do more. It keeps that fire to find new ways to help my clients, to grow intellectually and professionally every day alive.
So I urge you to strive to be the dumbest person in the room once over the next month. Check your ego at the door and see what you learn along the way.