The Smartest Person in the Room

IlLUSTRATION: David Castillo Dominici via

IlLUSTRATION: David Castillo Dominici via

When I was a kid, there was a popular joke about an airplane with four parachutes but five people, including a hippie, a priest, President Nixon, and Henry Kissinger. (And now you can probably guess my age… but I digress.) As the joke goes, after the pilot and the President bail out of the plane, Kissinger grabs a parachute, saying, “I can’t go down with this plane, I’m the smartest man in the world!” After he jumps out, the priest says to the hippie, “You take the last parachute,” to which the hippie replies, “Don’t worry, there’s one for each of us. The smartest man in the world just grabbed my backpack.”

I was reminded of this joke after reading a blog post from one of my favorite entrepreneurs, Peter Shankman. Peter is one the rare people who can give a brilliant (and often brilliantly funny) speech to a packed room one minute about marketing, customer service, and more, then become the student the next minute in a Q&A. Titled “Stop Being the Smartest Person in the Room,” Peter’s blog post relayed how one evening, he was invited to a dinner attended by a number of highly impressive businesspeople. Nearly everyone was a CEO or company founder, or both. “Over the course of a few hours, I realized something really interesting – I was most definitely not the smartest person in the room, by a long shot,” he writes. “I just shut up and tried to take it all in. I left the restaurant with more knowledge and more ideas for things I wanted to do than I’ve had in the past three months. It was pretty awesome.”

The point of his post? I’ll use his words again, since they’re eloquently simple: “If you’re always the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.”

Look around you. Is it time you changed rooms?

While you’re at it, look at your web bookmarks. If you don’t have Peter’s website there, add it now. I promise you that you’ll learn something—and you might just teach him a thing or two in your comments.

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