On Wanting to be the Dumbest Person in the Room

April 15, 2013

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. 


You Might Also Like

  • TB at BlueCollarworkman April 15, 2013 at 10:36 am

    The staying humble part is what I like. When you’re the dumbest person, you should stay sorta quiet and just listen. Be humble. It’s a nice life lesson and you can learn something!

    • Marissa April 17, 2013 at 1:49 am

      Agreed! I learn something new EVERYTIME

  • Grayson @ Debt Roundup April 15, 2013 at 11:51 am

    If I was in your situation, I think it would be an honor to be the dumbest person in the room. You could learn a lot from those individuals. If I were at some other event, like a concert, I wouldn’t strive for that distinction.

    • Marissa April 17, 2013 at 1:50 am

      I wouldn’t want to strive myself with people dumber than me at a concert. Altho I have a feeling they would be more fun.

  • William @ Bite the Bullet April 15, 2013 at 12:04 pm

    I had the privilege many years ago to be the dumbest person in the group (grad asst.) in a series of confabs, as part of a study by the body accrediting all business schools, as they did their once-every-25-years review of business education. (Actually got to write the first chapter.) I learned to keep my ears open and my mouth shut (not too easy, that latter part!).

    • Marissa April 17, 2013 at 1:51 am

      That sounds amazing!

  • Brick By Brick Investing | Marvin April 15, 2013 at 12:44 pm

    Being the dumbest person in the room is the quickest way to success. Unfortunately a lot of people let pride get in the way and like their surroundings to be comfortable which means they the smartest person in the room. It’s a shame because this also ensures they will never progress in life.

    • Marissa April 17, 2013 at 1:51 am

      I feel exactly the same way.

  • eemusings April 15, 2013 at 5:13 pm

    I feel like this all the time! I meet and write about amazing entrepreneurs and creatives, and I felt much like you did at TedX Auckland last year. It’s not a bad thng 🙂

    • Marissa April 17, 2013 at 1:52 am

      I don’t know if you’re planning on visiting Canada at all next year, but try to make it to Waterloo if you can.

  • American Debt Project April 15, 2013 at 5:18 pm

    Really good advice…you get to learn a lot every day, that sounds like a sweet gig!

    • Marissa April 17, 2013 at 1:53 am

      JPL, lady!

  • KK @ Student Debt Survivor April 15, 2013 at 8:02 pm

    Love this post. There’s so much to be learned by others if we’re humble enough to, as you said, “be the dumbest person in the room”. I’d much rather be the dumbest person in the room and learn a lot, then be the smartest and not learn a thing. Well said!

    • Marissa April 17, 2013 at 1:53 am

      Thank you!

  • fabulously frugirl April 15, 2013 at 9:20 pm

    I love this post. It’s so inspiring to hear that someone as smart as you is so humble! Here’s to being the dumbest person in the room 🙂

    • Marissa April 17, 2013 at 1:53 am


  • Michelle April 15, 2013 at 9:23 pm

    Did you ask the CERN Physicists about the “God Particle?” I am so fascinated by it. Lucky you!

    • Marissa April 17, 2013 at 1:54 am

      She was fascinating and completely “normal” at the same time. And yes I did, as I’m a nice nerd at heart.

  • femmefrugality April 16, 2013 at 12:05 am

    I’ve read #3 in Dale Carnegie’s classic…found it to be so true! I like being the dumbest/least experienced in the room, too. I’d so much rather be learning…I’ve been on the other side and it’s not as fun. Not saying I’m smart…just that I had more experience on that particular topic than the other people. And that wasn’t saying a lot. :p

    • Marissa April 17, 2013 at 1:54 am

      And it gets boring repeating the same thing over and over again.

  • Miiockm April 16, 2013 at 12:10 am

    Very true about getting people to talk about themselves.

    • Marissa April 17, 2013 at 1:55 am

      Right? Thats the key to get access to new information.

  • DC @ Young Adult Money April 17, 2013 at 8:28 am

    I think learning how to be okay with being the “dumbest” person in the room is important. Consider entrepreneurs – they need to be okay with having some really smart people working for them, and sometimes (if not more often than not) people who are smarter than them. Really cool that you work with TedX and cool to hear about how much prep time is involved to put on the event.

    • Marissa April 18, 2013 at 12:58 am

      Is there a Tedx in your neck of the woods?

  • Evelyn April 17, 2013 at 11:05 am

    Well this post will go into my read again file. You’re right; we’re all supposed to be ‘experts’ and know it all. That gets really tiresome in a hurry. I love to learn new things, and am always taking courses in a variety of fields to feed my inquisitive mind.
    Like you said, it’s important to surround yourself with smart people. Recently read something about only being as successful as your 5-10 closest friends are (well, I think that was the gist of it).

  • Lesley April 17, 2013 at 11:10 am

    Great article. Oddly enough, I found your site because I read a post on Crazy Egg about color schemes used by financial sites, and yours was my favorite out of 20+.
    Now I find not only is the site good-looking, but the content is great as well.
    I’ve always believed that when you know think you know it all, it’s either time to change careers, or you’re not hanging around with smart enough people.

  • Jon A April 23, 2013 at 9:12 pm

    Love this post, great ideas. If people were more humble and accepting of each other maybe we could work together instead of stepping all over each other.

  • Buck Inspire July 28, 2013 at 1:05 am

    Love the positive attitude! What’s wrong with being the dumbest person in the room? Funny, in the past I would be intimidated or felt so inadequate that I would clam up even more. Nowadays, these moments are golden opportunities to learn and grow. More power to ya!