One quote that I’ve kept near & dear to my heart whenever I’m working in a group setting is “If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room”. This mantra has served me quite well throughout my life but it has it’s limitations.
At a certain point, you will be apart of a room where you’ll never be the smartest person in the room regardless of how hard you try. There are so many brilliantly talented smart people out there. To even try to compare is almost doing a disservice to your own ego. When I encountered this, I realized that I needed to think outside the box. Although I couldn’t become the smartest person in the room, I could however work on my creative skills & become one of the most creative people in the room.
To me, there’s a difference of smart vs. creative. Smart is having the knowledge through learning & previous experience. Creative is engaging with knowledge & learning through new experiences.
Take a toddler for example. I have a daughter who is two years old. She is the most creative person I know. She’s able to follow her natural curiosity and learn through immersion. But she also has a short attention span, which means her impulse will take her to the next thing that piques her curiousity.
Her brain does not have the established connections that I have. My connections continue to decline with age. It’s much easier for her to make associations between ideas she’s pursuing because there’s more to find. I never really realized the importance of play until my early 20s where I would perform & teach improv at a local theater. One of the most important lessons I would teach is the concept of “Yes, And”. Let’s talk about that.
“Yes, And” is very simple if you look at it at face value. It however has much more depth and meaning than people new to the concept pick up though. The first “Yes” represents accepting an idea presented to you. For example, you might say “Quite some crazy weather we’re having today.” to which your scene partner would then accept the reality created by you such as “Yeah, it’s been raining for the last hour”.
The second “And”, is where you build upon the reality you accepted previously. Instead of merely accepting the reality, you are building upon it to make it more interesting. Let’s use the same example:
Person 1: “Quite some crazy weather we’re having today.”
Person 2: “I never would’ve believed it would actually rain cat & dogs. I can’t go outside or I’ll breakout in hives.”
This to me is where divergent and convergent thinking helps you become more creative. First, you’re exploring all of the possibilities (Divergent). Next, you’re deciding what to do (Convergent).
When you’re in a room with people definitely smarter than you, there is an excess amount of divergent thinking going on. Each person may have a unique possibility to share with the room, but this is where I think things get stuck. There tends to be a missing step to get to the convergent thinking. This may be because people fall in love with their ideas & are afraid to “kill their darlings”. It may be the idea of having “skin in the game”. What tends to bring convergent thinking in these situations is finding unique ways to build upon the possibilities. You’re literally saying “Yes, And” to each possibility and building upon the reality set by it.
This is extremely hard though. It requires your room of people to have a group flow where associations can be made without judgements. The challenge of group flow is that it is highly susceptible to groupthink. Here’s a few ways that I’ve found to avoid this & be more creative as a group:
- Complete concentration. Absolutely no distractions.
- Shared goals. Everyone should be aligned.
- Risk of failure. Providing support for any failures.
- Engaged listening. Being fully present.
- Equal communication. Utilizing everyone’s unique skillset.
- Killing egos. Keeping egos at the door.
- Everyone contributes. Balancing roles we play.
- Shared knowledge. Use a common language.
- Autonomy. Being able to do what you need to do.
- Say Yes, And. Accept the reality & build upon it.
So although you may not be able to be the smartest person in every room you enter, you sure as hell can be the most creative person or empower others to be more creative.