Smarts – The Who, The Why, The How

I have three questions for you. When you read each one, take a few moments and answer them, preferably on paper or on screen. Then, I’ll share my experience answering all three questions and what I got out of the process.

Question 1: Who are the 5-10 smartest people you know rather well?

This is fairly straightforward but not necessarily simple – don’t go more than 10. Consider your friends, family, and business colleagues. You might want to go off intuition, but I also recommend you scan through your LinkedIn, Facebook, or contact database accounts. It will stir you to think of people you may not have instinctively.

And be sure to include only those where the relationship and respect goes both ways – the ones you think will take your phone call or reply back fairly quickly.

Do it now – make your list.

Question 2: Why do you consider them the smartest people you know?

Next to their name, describe in your own words who they are, what they do, how they think, etc. that makes them so smart, in your opinion. Those last three words are very important. I’m not asking you to justify your criteria for smarts, simply what those criteria are for each person you listed.

Do it now – write down why they’re smart.

Question 3: How do you tap those people, and their smarts, for your life and your business?

Write out a summary, or a list, of the various ways you actually leverage these specific individuals. It might be when you are faced with adversity, opportunity, profound questions, life or business changes, etc. It might be when you want to learn about a new industry, market, or subject matter. It might be when you need advice regarding a family issue, personal struggle, etc.

Do it now – identify how you tap into them.

My Experience

A few weeks ago, I was inspired by question #1, and the results were fascinating to me. I’m fortunate to have a network that includes many smart people – friends, family members, former students, professors, prior and current co-workers, entrepreneurs, investors, and a wide array of colleagues.

But as I forced myself to narrow them down, I found myself asking question #2 – why I consider them so smart. As I scanned down the list to see if there were any similarities among them, I discovered two common attributes. It wasn’t academic or professional credentials, it wasn’t public stature, it wasn’t their accomplishments, and it wasn’t what they do for a living.

To me, “smart” people are those who:

  1. Ask meaningful questions. They think before posing a question which, in turn, causes the other party to think before responding. Many times, it elicits a “that’s a great question” from the receiving party and then puts a little pressure on him/her to provide an equally meaningful and thoughtful answer.
  2. See things others don’t. They are both visionary (“zooming out” and seeing the big picture) and insightful (“zooming in” and seeing what the real issue is).  They put together facts, opinions, situations, ideas, issues, and agendas to offer a plausible analysis of what is going on, or what will happen. These people are the ones who we look to for clarity, inspiration, and cohesiveness.

So once I answered question #2, I moved on to #3.

I realized that the people I consider the smartest in my network were those who, when they speak, I stop everything, look at them, and listen carefully. They’re the ones I turn to when I’m facing a tough question or confounding struggle – not because they have the answer or provide support, but because they ask great questions. And, upon getting the answers, they deliver clarity of what’s going on or a vision of what will probably happen (on a side note, they can do that precisely because they ask meaningful questions).

One big takeaway for me when I did this exercise was that, as I scanned the list of smart people in my network, I realized I need to be in more regular contact with them. By asking great questions and challenging my thinking better than others, they make me learn more, develop faster, get greater clarity, and generate better ideas.

We all hear that you should surround yourself with smart people but that’s not always easy, nor in your control. But what is easy and in your control is being in touch with the smart people you know.

So as you now look at your completed exercise, what was the experience like? What have you learned about yourself and your network? What were your answers to question #2?


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