You’re the Dumbest Person in the Room…
Editor’s Note: Nathan Eklund is a professional speaker and trainer who works with individuals—students, teachers, and administrators—and organizations seeking hopeful solutions to problems in schools. This is a cross-post that originally appeared on his blog for Eklund Consulting—where you can continue to follow Nathan and his work.
… but don’t sweat it. You’re also the smartest person in the room. It just depends on the subject.
I was asked this morning what my philosophy was as an educator. It’s a good question. I sipped my dark roast coffee and pondered it for a bit. I’m sure given more time, I could have come up with something a little more eloquent and not quite so pejorative. But in the moment, I said that it was my belief that everyone (student, colleague, administrator, parent, etc.) I was in contact with was both the dumbest and smartest person in the room depending on what we were talking about.
I taught Humanities. As such, we studied architecture, art, philosophy, and music. If there’s a better subject to teach to and with young people, I don’t know it. One of the challenges however was ascribing value to knowledge. Take music for example. We studied jazz, classical, pop, and world music. By the end of any given period of study, I would expect that students could recognize genre, instruments, and composers. So they could know the difference between Bach, Beethoven, Copland, Coltrane, or Joplin. And in my thinking, this knowledge had value.
But how much value? Or rather, how much MORE value than other kinds of knowledge? I think specifically of a cadre of students who were obsessed with their cars. They knew their way around a car engine better than I knew my way around a piano. My knowledge of cars includes the following: windshield wiper fluid, gas, and oil. Beyond that, I’m completely useless.
So when I spun tracks of music in the classroom, I’m sure there were times when it appeared that I was pretty smart. Probably the smartest guy in the room at times. But if we had walked 50 yards to my car to diagnose the squeaking in my engine, I would have far and away been the dumbest person in the lot. Without question.
I think really good teachers, good leaders, and frankly good people have a somewhat ongoing monitoring and appreciation of the areas of their lives where they might just be the dumbest person in the room. There is tremendous value in being able to look at the people around you and knowing without a doubt the areas where they are intelligent, gifted, knowledgeable, and passionate. Recognizing those areas should only be one part of the equation though.
I think we not only need to recognize these strengths in others, but also have the personal humility and confidence to declare our own weakness and room for growth and vault people into their rightful places of superiority. I would go even further and say that as a manager or coworker or spouse or friend, it’s actually our duty to know where we’re inferior to others and rather than being defensive about it actually embracing (and perhaps publicizing) these areas of strength in others.
By the way, if you know anything about cars, lawn care, accounting, marketing, guitar, bike repair, swimming, and about a million other things, give me a call.