Are You Smart or Not?

Are You Smart or Not?

“So, who’s the smartest person in the room?”

And just like that a noisy and vibrant conversation falls silent. Frustration and fear fill the empty spaces and the room starts to feel smaller. The dense emotion begins to suffocate us all until someone – some brave or naive or curious person slowly raises an unsure hand. I offer some affirmation and appreciation for the one who climbs onto the pedestal of unquestionable genius and ask a few questions to help start the real conversation:

  • How do you know?
  • When did you know?
  • Why are you here?

Before long, my attention turns back to the larger group – everyone who watched as someone else claimed a position that could and maybe should have been theirs.

“So, how do you know you’re not the smartest person in the room?”

Then I follow up with some pointed and painful thoughts to get us all questioning each other and questioning our own assumptions – even questioning my effectiveness as a facilitator. It’s a healthy discussion that I hope pushes people to recognize the truth in the statement; “There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you”. When Marianne Williamson took up a pen to articulate how our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate she triggered a shift in how people would approach the world around them but also the narrative that would play in the hearts and minds of many.

Over the past year I’ve presented at conferences, workshops & summits on college campuses, in downtown offices, grade-schools and community centers in a few different cities. At a number of these events I kicked off conversations with a simple question: “Who’s the smartest person in the room?”

To this question I got a variety of reactions from the audience but here’s what I found most interesting: The silence; the searching; the immediate sureness that so many had in their own belief that they were not the smartest person sitting there.

But once, on a bright and warm day, I took advantage of the opportunity to speak to a local class of elementary students. When I asked my favorite question this time I was amazed and excited to see about half the group immediately throw hands high into the air and stand up in their certainty to explain how they knew that they were the smartest not just in the room but anywhere. The experience of that day left me with more questions:

  • Who taught us otherwise and why should we believe them?
  • Who defined “smart” and told you that you didn’t fit the description?

I challenge you to question yourself and question your perceptions. When you’re done asking questions decide that you have value to contribute to the space that you occupy. Decide that your hand should be raised when called upon because you are the smartest person in the room.

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Ernest Comer III
Ernest is the sole proprietor and Executive Director of E Howard Co. Professional Innovations, a company built to serve new professionals and growing businesses.