Smartest Guy in the Room Syndrome

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Smartest Guy in the Room Syndrome

Postby Spots » April 29th, 2013, 4:51 am

Ideas for forming an improv troupe or writing partnership. Basically any collaboration ever. Especially if you are in the leadership role.

http://adage.com/article/small-agency-d ... os/145861/


"Never Be the Smartest Guy in the Room"
by Phil Johnson

The writer Norman Mailer ("Armies of the Night," "Executioner's Song") made the point that there's only one character that an author can't write and that's a character that's smarter than the writer. We're all bounded by the limits of our own brains. So it's interesting that one of the most sacred tenets of being a good boss is to hire people smarter or more talented than yourself. You need skill and courage to take that directive seriously.

Not withstanding the line "I just surround myself with good people" that executives humbly use to explain their success, it's tricky and intimidating to identify people that may surpass you. No one wants to be second best, or admit that they're not the brightest point of light. Then there's the challenge of actually knowing when someone is smarter than you.

I'm not talking about finding people who can do things that you can't. Account people know they need creative people. Creative people know they need developers. We can all admit that we can't fix our own cars and that the plumber knows more about the pipes than we do. I'm talking about finding people who are better at what you do best. Now that's threatening. But it's the smartest survival strategy for an agency leader whether he or she is a creative director, account director, or CEO.

There are obvious risks. You can make yourself obsolete. You might introduce competition for your own job. Worse yet, you may lose some of your star power. My stock expression at the office is that I take care of my ego at home (although teenage boys challenge that assumption), and I go to work to build a successful company. But it still hurts to see my ideas tossed on the agency trash pile. You've got to take these risks or you'll stagnate and become a one-trick agency that will never grow beyond the limits of the top guy's ideas and judgment.

I've got a theory, and I'm curious what you think. I believe that most of us can spot someone who is a little better than ourselves, but it's really hard to spot talent and brains that are a lot better. First, there's the intimidation factor. We just don't understand those people. Their ideas seem alien to the world we know. The next time you get that sense from somebody, stop and take a second look. Of course, they might be insane, but they might also be what you need. For the brave of heart, transcend your own limits and take a chance on someone who can blow open your thinking in entirely new ways.

My own greatest fear is to be the limiting factor in the growth of PJA Advertising. Fortunately, just about everyone in the agency will tell you with conviction that they're smarter than me. Here's a checklist for how I find them:

Look for people who have accomplished a goal, or solved a problem, that you personally aspired to achieve and couldn't. Make them tell you how they did it.

Put your own convictions and beliefs on the table. Ask them to convince you of something new or, better yet, to change your perspective.

Find out their sources. What do they read? Who do they admire? Where do they look for inspiration? I like to see people making connections that would never cross my mind.

Do they dazzle you? Do they make your brain work harder? Do they help you see things that you couldn't see before? If you're afraid that they might leave you in the dust, this could be a good sign.

I've made the mistake of finding spectacular talent and then boxing them in. If someone thinks differently than you, they probably work differently too. You've got to let them revise the rules and change the system. There will be nail-biting moments when you don't quite get it, or know that it will work. The culture will inevitably shift. Sometimes, there may be spectacular disasters. Those are the risks you take when you want to become better than you are today.

Nobody should aspire to be the smartest person in the room. First of all, if you think you are, you're probably not. And if by some chance you really are, you've got the hardest job in the world because no one can do much to help you. In his memoir "Open," Andre Agassi made a wonderful point about his long-standing rivalry with Pete Sampras. Agassi observed that without Sampras as a rival he might have had a better record, but that the competition with Sampras made him a better tennis player. Being pushed to new heights should be what we all want, whether you're a junior copywriter, or the CEO.
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Re: Smartest Guy in the Room Syndrome

Postby Adam Keys » April 29th, 2013, 10:44 am

I've found an important corollary to "never be the best guy in the band/room/team/etc.": if you think you actually are smarter than everyone in the room, stop that. It just means there's some bias in your thought preventing you from seeing how someone else is wiser than you.

I'm confident in my ability to play a straight man, so I try to learn from people who play bigger and zanier. I'm happy in my ability to drag a scene along, so I'm always looking to learn from people who collaborate their way through a scene rather than play follow-the-leader.
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Re: Smartest Guy in the Room Syndrome

Postby BriHo » May 7th, 2013, 4:09 pm

Part of me, that is, all of the dumb parts of me, has a hard time with this, almost to the point where I'm thinking you're talking about playing to the height of your/ your character's intelligence. I know that's not true, and that we're talking about making your character... That's why I prefered Joe Bill's, I believe he put it, "height of the character's integrity." In other words, if you're a cop, play as the best (most true) cop possible, don't make him into a DFA unless that's been justified by the other players. Making meta references like historical events or literary allusions and other same-such things was an early crutch for me (e.g. when weird things are going on, "this is like the Evil Dead!" rather than reacting with acting out how weird/scary et al the situation we've found outselves in is.

Now, if you are really talking about acting like you, that is, you yourselves being the smartest/best in the room, I disagree. I go on stage with the subtle unconscious belief that whoever else on with me at any possible point is the baddest, most ill, most Basqiawesometacious person ever, but just barely better than me, so I'm cool enough to let that stay an unspoken truth, and I can go into a low or high status scene with the confidence to make it look believable. For me at least, believing really is seeing with improv, I've found. This might have more to do with low offstage self-esteem than a universal trick applicable to others, as I don't have the benefit of being other people to have proper parallax perspective, but I've found that it helped me quite a bit, and if I don't make this subtle change of POV before rehearsal/class/shows, I just don't have the courage to get off the back wall/wings or, in scenes, to have the stage presence to properly have my own lines heard, let alone honor what is said by others.
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Re: Smartest Guy in the Room Syndrome

Postby BriHo » May 7th, 2013, 4:16 pm

Uh, that was from days ago; I got to my laptop and opened up Nightly and when restoring tabs I guess it decided to post. Anyway, sorry for the bumpage, and it looks weird being an unedited half-post, but before I deleted it I read enough to feel its technically how I believe/feel, so I think I'll keep it. Weird stuff, Nightly... and I don't know if I approve of how x64 bit firefox handles business... if it was a half written email, would it have sent that too?
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Re: Smartest Guy in the Room Syndrome

Postby Spots » May 9th, 2013, 5:47 pm

It gets complex when we talk about playing in a scene.


For me I think more in terms of seeing a student who is rising in the ranks. And feeling threatened by him. Because maybe I'm concerned he'll get cast in a show I want to be in.


Foster his talent rather than squash it. Combines your talents in a project together.
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