The Smartest One In The Room

We all like to believe that we’re smart.  I always used to ask that as an interview question of potential employees – “are you smart?”  No one ever said they weren’t and I certainly wouldn’t have expected them to.  Me?  I sometimes feel as if I’m not the smartest guy in the room even when I’m alone.

I bring this up today because I came across a study that I found interesting and thought you might as well.  It’s about how we evaluate one another as well as how we represent ourselves (hence the above interview question).  It’s in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology which I don’t make a habit of reading but the study popped up in my news feed.  Here is the abstract:

When people seek to impress others, they often do so by highlighting individual achievements. Despite the intuitive appeal of this strategy, we demonstrate that people often prefer potential rather than achievement when evaluating others. Indeed, compared with references to achievement (e.g., “this person has won an award for his work”), references to potential (e.g., “this person could win an award for his work”) appear to stimulate greater interest and processing, which can translate into more favorable reactions. This tendency creates a phenomenon whereby the potential to be good at something can be preferred over actually being good at that very same thing.

In other words, we much prefer hearing job candidates talk about how they are empty vessels capable of greatness than about how many deals they’ve closed.  I think that’s why I used to ask the “smart” question – it gets to a candidate’s potential.  The thing is that the raw intelligence – the potential – has to be married to a respect for the intelligence of those around you.  No matter how smart you may be, you need to seek out people smarter than you are to keep yourself growing.  If you can’t find an individual, the odds are that the collective wisdom of co-workers and peers can serve the same purpose.

You think that’s smart?

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