How To Be The Smartest Person On The Planet

money

I was the dumbest person in my graduate school program which is part of the reason I was thrown out. Stupidity plus immaturity and a willingness to show off both qualities is a bad combination. I thought I was a cowboy. I would show up to final exams having not attended a single class, totally smashed from the night before and not having slept. I had semesters where I failed every single class that semester.

I did everything you could possibly do to piss off as many people as possible in as short amount of time as possible and eventually I got thrown out. Well, I got “asked” to leave.   I’m not defending myself. I took bad advantage of a great situation I was in. They paid me a stipend and I used it to do whatever I wanted to do.

Later, when I had to move to the corporate world, I was the stupidest person there as well. Probably because I failed to learn anything in graduate school. I got the job for various reasons that had nothing to do with my abilities and so they didn’t know what to do with me. I was so impressed with everyone running around, knowing what to do, knowing how to survive in the big city. I thought to myself, “these are the real people and I’m faking it.”

On my second day they gave me a computer to put on the Internet. They said, “you know something about that internet stuff. Get this thing on the internet. But be careful, we keep some email servers on this.” I destroyed that computer so badly it had to be sent back to the manufacturer (Silicon Graphics) and it never came back. I was wearing a suit that didn’t fit me. I never wore suits. It was sunny out. I went outside to use the payphone. No sense making a call like this from my cubicle. I called my girlfriend in Pittsburgh and told her I was about to be fired. She was pretty happy about that. She wanted me back. Which, unfortunately, was my worst nightmare.

Jolie Hunt at Reuters invited me to a dinner a few months ago. I was definitely 100 IQ points lower than anyone there. Tina Brown was sitting next to me. Shawkut Azziz, the former prime minister of Pakistan was across from me. Padma Lakshmi was next to him. I don’t even know why I was invited. I concluded during the dinner that I must’ve done a favor at some point for Jolie but I couldn’t remember what it was.  The list goes on of the people at this dinner. Everyone had something to say. One of my favorite authors, Ken Auletta, was drilling the former prime minister about how much Pakistan knew about Osama Bin Laden’s whereabouts. I was deathly afraid someone would look at me and say, “well, what do you think about all of this? What do you have to say for yourself?”

But after 40 years of being the least smart person in most situations that I’ve been put in I’ve finally figured out how to be the smartest person on the planet.

The KEY: ALWAYS assume you are the least intelligent person in the room. Always.

Do this in every room, at every dinner, in every situation.

Several things will happen:

A) you’ll listen and learn from everyone around you. They are all smarter than you. Which means you have a lot to learn from them. Sergey Brin has a trick  when he interviews people for Google. He can tell within seconds whether or not he is going to hire someone. If he’s not going to hire them he knows he still has to suffer through another twenty minutes with them. So he always makes it a point to learn at least one thing from them so it’s not a total waste of time.  I do this with every person I meet ever. Because I happen to know a secret about them: they are smarter than me.

This is not a false humility. I haven’t been very good at school (which is probably why I write so many articles about why college is bad). And I haven’t made a billion dollars despite the opportunities I’ve had. I’ve made many many stupid mistakes that I have a hard time forgiving myself for. I could’ve saved lives and instead I squandered them. I got good at squandering.

The good thing I have going for me is that I LOOK smart. I have curly hair and glasses. And I’m Jewish and people stereotype all of the above. Oh, and I’m good at chess. Which people also equate with intelligence but this isn’t true.

B) When you’re done listening, listen to the silence. Trust me, people never finish talking. Once you’ve learned something from someone and they are done talking, then skip your turn to talk and let them talk again. They’ll do it. Not because of arrogance. It’s because they have more to teach you. So listen some more.

C) Now when they are done talking, ask at least one question. They’ll do A and B again. You’ll learn more. As I’m writing this it almost feels like I’m making fun of the people I’m listening to. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.

I’ll give you a quick example. I’m in a computer lab right now. Some guy, 31 years old, was just sitting at the computer next to  me, looking  for apartment rentals in Houston. I asked him why he’s moving to Houston. He just took a job at ExxonMobil. I thought the US had run out of oil, I said to him, immediately underlining my stupidity. He then explained to me how Texas has more oil than Saudi Arabia with all the new techniques and technologies and fracking, etc. I thought “fracking” was from Battlestar Galactica. He explained the whole thing to me. He drew diagrams of how the drills work. Of  how oil and gas flows out of the rocks. I then googled it after he left to learn more and make sure I understood. I don’t know if Texas has more oil than Saudi Arabia but I certainly learned a lot more than I knew two hours ago.

(fracking is also a curse word in my favorite show)

D) Intelligence compounds exponentially. It’s the “network effect”. In a system (like the Internet) with the network effect, the more people that use it, the value of the entire network goes up exponentially. Which is why the value and profit of companies like Facebook and Zynga have gone up so fast compared with companies in prior generations. And why the entire Internet exploded upwards like it did. But in the case of intelligence, the “network” is the neurons in your brain. Learn new things and new neurons wake up and start firing synapses with each other, increasing exponentially the “value” (intelligence) of the “network” (your brain).

So try this: be the least intelligent person at every meeting and gathering. You’re a spy, gathering all the intel you can. Unlike everyone else at the meeting, you are guaranteed to learn something (because everything people say is something you don’t know, almost by definition). Because of the compounding effect, at some point, you will be the smartest.

E) Humility. At the very least, assuming you are smart, you will be able to practice and cultivate a healthy humility, which is never bad.

But, you might ask: shouldn’t one exude confidence and demonstrate intelligence so people are impressed?

Answer: No. People will forget you. Not everyone. But most. Because that’s what people do. They move onto the next thing. But if you consciously cultivate humility and learn from everyone you meet, you will be the one who will never forget them. And, before long, you’ll be the smartest person on the planet. And when the aliens land and say, “we are going to talk to your leader”, everyone around you will be surprised when the aliens go straight to you.

 

 

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  • http://twitter.com/arianna Arianna O’Dell

    James, since I’ve found you’re blog I’ve been trying to find another blog that tops your writing. Can’t be done.

  • David

    I like this post, James.  Useful tips.

  • Anonymous

    As I’m sure you know, that silent “trick” is also
    effective when negotiating.  The other
    person doesn’t like silence, and will say something, anything [usually
    lessening their position] just to fill the void.  Of course, this doesn’t work with seasoned
    dealmakers.

    • http://www.startdatamining.com Kevin

      Great post.  I learn from you often.

  • http://twitter.com/JayAltschuler Jay Altschuler

    James…JAMES! This is why I read this blog. I dislike your rants about politics/government, they aren’t good. This is, however, great advice that is immediately useful. Well done.

  • redman59

    Great topic and guidance. Goes along with one of my favorite replies when someone asks why I dont talk much and that’s “I’ve never learned much from talking”. Also you ever notice how the know-it-all is oftenthe one that quitely gets made fun of.

  • redman59

    Great topic and guidance. Goes along with one of my favorite replies when someone asks why I dont talk much and that’s “I’ve never learned much from talking”. Also you ever notice how the know-it-all is oftenthe one that quitely gets made fun of.

  • redman59

    Great topic and guidance. Goes along with one of my favorite replies when someone asks why I dont talk much and that’s “I’ve never learned much from talking”. Also you ever notice how the know-it-all is oftenthe one that quitely gets made fun of.

  • http://stephaniscoe.com Stephan Iscoe

    Brilliant! James, just this afternoon I got a pretty thorough education from a master plumber who became talkative in response to a nod, a smile, and raised eyebrows.  I think one operative dynamic is that he was willing to share trade secrets (tools, tips, codes, licensing, preferred smokes and the secret plumber cabal handshake) because as smart as I might look (dark curly hair, glasses, ethnic something), there was no threat or challenge to his knowledge, authority or status. And now I understand the bill, too.

  • cindyluwho

    Very useful advice. Though I am always sure that I am the stupidest person in the room. I did not finish college so I spend my time concerned that people are judging me. So I end up not really listening as I should. However, I will say I have seen some Olympic stupidty from people with degrees from Yale, Harvard and the like….. so I am not 100% convinced that college matters that much. Maybe that is what people who didn’t get a degree tell themselves.

     I will definitely try this. Thanks again, you rock.

  • JudyNoel

    Loved this!!!  Awesome piece–thank you so much!!!

  • http://www.honeymoonletters.com Whitney

    Ug. I believe in listening more than you speak because truly confident and intelligent people don’t feel the need to convince people of their views.

    BUT, I read this post as false humility. There are a lot of crazies and stupids out there. I may not be the smartest, but I refuse to believe that everyone has something to offer me.

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      Let’s assume they have nothing to offer you. Then two benefits of following the above advice:
      A) you practice humility
      B) you don’t waste time talking to them.

      • http://www.honeymoonletters.com Whitney

        Yeah. I already follow B. I agree.

        I was kinda curious when I was reading this though: Do you think humility is something you should practice constantly? It seems like at certain times humility isn’t in your best interest. For example, when someone is on the phone with me, I don’t know them, and they’re rambling (not able to make a clear point)…do I practice humility and let their conversation fizzle out or do I cut my losses, tell them I don’t understand and hang up?

        • Kb

          Your response assumes that you feel you sometimes speak with those you feel are “beneath you.”  While you might feel this is true, it is always best to listen, nod, then choose your direction using your own compiled info.  Aka, it is possible to listen even if you think you know the answer, then provide the answer later.
          Later being the opposite of immediate, which we are all guilty of sometimes – and sometimes, despite us being “smart”, we don’t have all the information because that shows up later.  I suspect this might be one of the steps towards upper management – not being the immediate smarty, but the one who solves it in the end with the least amount of waves.  I’m still trying to find the formula.

  • Jsrsnk1

    This is a wonderful piece. Interesting 1st half and absolute dynamite second half.

    Not 100% sure the end result will be achieved, but phenomenal progress will be made by all who practice these principles (and thats what it’s all about really-the journey and personal progress, but I’m going to make a run at meeting the aliens anyway!!)

    Thank You for taking the time to write and post this James.

  • Guest

    shouldn’t this topic generate zero comments as we are all listening now?

    • http://stephaniscoe.com Stephan Iscoe

      we’re listening out loud…

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=807849761 John T Sprague

    I have nothing to say…tell me more.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=807849761 John T Sprague

    I have nothing to say…tell me more.

  • http://aeronode.tumblr.com james

    “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.”

    Shunryu Suzuki

  • http://journeyofone.com Christopher

    haha.. ” I thought “fracking” was from Battlestar Galactica.”  That is exactly what I was thinking when I first heard the term used a few months ago.  Another term that I’ve been hearing recently…”fungible”.  In the internet world the new shiny term is “REST”, although it was invented many years ago – people just discovered it and now they think they are so smart when using it.

  • Beyondbeige

    Duh!

  • http://twitter.com/sandman_va Dave Sandrowitz

    I agree with your points, but you are either suffering from low self-esteem or falsely denigrating your own intellect simply for the purpose of this article.  Those people at the dinner are surely intelligent…but c’mon, James.  Tina Brown is an arrogant ass who only sounds smart because of her accent.  Becoming Prime Minister doesn’t make you a genius, but might be evidence that you are a champion grade kiss-ass.  And, Padma Lakshmi…?  Smart, pretty, and probably a good conversationalist.  But, again, you aren’t going to convince me that you sat at a table with her and felt intellectually outclassed, chess boy.

    Something tells me you know you are on their level, but that you like to mess around in situations and just say crazy shit.  And, being good at school is obviously not indicative of your ability to get into very good schools.  Clearly you did something right along the way, something that showcased your brainpower enough to gain admittance.

    You should always believe you can learn from others.  And, you should never assume to know another person’s intelligence.  But, you should also not devalue your own and allow feelings of inadequacy to blunt your own wit and wisdom when engaging them.

  • http://twitter.com/kamalravikant Kamal Ravikant

    Great post, James.  Very useful.  Also, if you pay attention to someone as they talk, really are present, they feel it, and it feels good.  We all want to feel good.  It’s a great trade, you learn something, they feel good and, funny enough, they remember you as that person who made them feel good – when all you did was listen.

  • Josh

    I’m sorry James but those first few paragraphs had me rolling on the floor laughing.  Very good writing!

  • Paulaelisars

    Hey James , I love your and Claudia’s blog !
    Love from Brazil :)

  • Anonymous

    [silence…]

  • http://www.zacharyburt.com/ Zachary Burt

    what’s your trick for remembering all these concepts?  especially on bad days?  

  • Jason

    100% spot on.  A good corollary to this point is that if you are in a room, and you know that you are the smartest person in the room, it’s time to leave!  The people have nothing to offer and you are wasting your time.  I normally assume that I am the dumbest person in the room.  Only a couple of times have I realized that I was the smartest person in the room, which meant that the others had nothing to offer.  If it was an employment situation, I changed jobs quickly.

  • Guest2

    Not liking the comment section today.  To much talking about how everyone believes they are so smart, and people they think are stupid have nothing to offer….

  • aclarke

    – Silence is golden but Speech is platinum , in a discussion , ideas should exchange/flow everywhere. Always keeping silent is not good.
    – Outright assuming others are smarter than you is “false humility”.
    – Havent you said something to the effect of “Avoid negative people” (avoid listening to them as they are draining).
    – (btw you were very right , on why others think you as smart, exactly what i was thinking)

    • http://twitter.com/jloochkartt Joseph Loochkartt

      speech is platinum when it’s actually platinum not some silver posing as platinum. people talk too much, feel they always have to say something back, or just too fill blanks and thus not listen enough. and if you start listening closely it always goes something like “I, me, etc”.

      maybe i should have just stayed quiet….

  • Anonymous

    Great post, now I understand why having a learning disability and assuming I was dumb was a gift, not that I don’t also have the got-to-gab gene–came from my Mom.  Will re-blog this–my way of having you be a guest blogger. Not right now, having problems with blog, dumb me couldn’t figure out how to move from WP.Com to WP.org.  Also will send iit to my husband who turned me on to you, but needs to be turned on to listening.  Share, care, and stay strong. 

  • wsc

    interesting mix of people at the dinner, in particular padma.  she has the power to drain iqs.

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      No, she’s very smart and has been through a lot. Don’t judge.

      • wsc

        she’s definitely intelligent, i think you misinterpreted my comment.  i was referring to how beautiful women have the power to make mens’ brains turn off. 

  • http://twitter.com/jloochkartt Joseph Loochkartt

    now, to share this or not? if i do then i run the risk of sitting at a quiet dinner table at my next gathering. somebody’s got to do the talking. so i’m not sharing. byee.

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      I know the feeling.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ellen.attar Ellen Howard Attar

    I found you because of your book on markets, but I follow you because of your wit and insight. No on e understands my humor, and I don’t get others. You make me laugh out loud. Thank You!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      My goal for the day has come true then!

  • http://twitter.com/fzeng96 Feng Z

    aliens, eh? no thanks, staying warm and cozy and be dumb here on earth sounds much better than be the smartest and be anal-yzed by some outer space animals.

  • Recessbarbie

    My mother makes me play this stupid game on the computer called “Words With Friends”- I hate it. It’s just internet SCRABBLE but I can’t stand it. But it makes her happy. I have a PhD- my mother has an 8th grade education. She kicks my ass on a regular basis on this game. Suppose that proves your theory correct… Brilliance doesn’t lie within titles or popularity; it lies within the knowledge of ourselves. Sometimes, just the art of “shutting-up” shows just how smart you truly are.

    Very interesting blog. Insightful. I’ll be revisiting- thank you for making me smile on a rather difficult day.

    ;)

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      I hope the day becomes less difficult.

  • http://twitter.com/associatesmind Associate’s Mind

    Sound advice. Being able to shut up, listen, and learn from other people is a skill not many people possess.

    RE: “Network effect” – There’s actually been a good bit of debate in regards to Metcalfe’s Law, and it’s applicability to social networks in particular. IEEE did a piece in 2006, showing how Metcalfe was incorrect in regards to his valuation of network effects, and Metcalfe responded in kind. I wrote about both briefly here: http://associatesmind.com/2011/08/02/henry-david-thoreau-on-google-plus/

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      Wow, I will check that out! Thanks.

  • Manuel

    Sometimes though you learn a lot by talking (and listening to yourself).

  • Kevin Faul

    This is one of my favorite movies:

    Being There (Peter Sellers, Shirley MacLaine)

    Description here: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0078841/
    Clip Here: http://youtu.be/FcPQ9gww_qc

    Might be a fun watch; compliment to this post.

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      Good idea. I just read “Steps” by Jerzy Kosinskin (same author).

      • Kevin Faul

        Looks like a great book. I’ll check it out. Also, the post was great. Thanks.

  • http://www.brookefarmer.com Brooke Farmer

    I have a hard time believing you have every truly been the stupidest person in any room, James. But I still loved this post. I wouldn’t exactly say that I assume I am dumber than other people, but I do try hard to learn from the people around me. It’s why I like to sit and listen to people’s stories so much. Which is why I am sitting at my favorite coffee shop right now just waiting and hoping for my friend Mario to show up. He is nearly eighty years old. That is a lot os years worth of stories. I love listening to him.

    I also love eavesdropping on strangers for the same reason. 

    As a side note- Texas does in fact have more oil than Saudi Arabia. This is something we talked extensively about in my undergrad program. Alaska also has a ton of it. The reasons it is not being exhausted are both political and practical. (Why not hold on to some of our reserves for when the rest of the world runs out?) 

  • http://twitter.com/Parito Par Trivedi

    This advice is wonderful for loud mouth types like us!

  • http://www.parkparadigm.com parkparadigm

    Just had a vision of a dinner party of a dozen people employing your strategy resulting in effective silence.  “So what do you think about X?” “Well I’m not sure, I’d really like to hear your insights first.” “No please, go ahead I’m sure you have a more cogent view.”  etc.

    Would be pretty funny.

  • doug graves

    I’m going to practice this technique today.

  • pjc

    Fracking is an awesome technology!

    The US is currently the world’s leading producer in natural gas thanks to the newer fracking techniques. The basic idea has been around since the 40s, but now they can do it with far greater precision, as well as move the drills to just the right place, etc.

    Oil – they’re getting some good results with high volume horizontal fracking for oil. But it’s really doing amazing stuff with natural gas. The “oil-to-gas” price ratio, in the US, has been at absurdly high levels for the last 2 years or so, thanks to the natural gas glut from fracking.

    Essentially, the energy plan for the US going forward appears to be “export coal, import oil, use lots of domestically produced natural gas”. That is, unless there is a global gas glut to match the US gas glut. Were that to happen, the price of energy overall would crash.

    I’m probably going to vote for Perry, for no reason other than he’s the Al Gore of horizontal fracking. Perry was smart enough not to screw it up when it was developed in Texas under his watch. Nationally, the greenies are trying to strangle this method and drive us back to the stone ages, but it’s sufficiently mature that it’s now impossible to stop. 

    Thanks for letting me rant on my favorite technology.

    • Lauren

      Fracking aside, would you really vote for someone who ignored their state legislature and wrote an order forcing girls age 12 and up to get HPV vaccination? I can’t stand Al Gore and the greenies, but I certainly don’t want someone who has obviously been bought and paid for by Merck in office either

      • pjc

        Public health laws generally involve a certain loss of individual freedom. While I haven’t done a deep dive into Merck/HPV, I tend to think that the anti-vaccination crowd is a little silly and unscientific. (I.e. witness the recent “vaccines cause autism … oops maybe they don’t” debacle).

        • Lauren

          This is about FORCE, not about which vaccination camp you fall into. Families should make those decisions not government. Who owns your body? Knowing that you own your own body you get to decide what goes into it. If you are a minor then your parents have the final say. Failing to understand this idea has allowed gov. to wage a war against property rights, which is the foundation for the rule of law.

          • pjc

            That’s an interesting point — but it basically applies to public health laws in general. Parents who refuse all vacinnations for their children will get into all sorts of hot water with the government. This isn’t something Perry invented – it’s a basic principle of public health – the government pushes (or forces) people to vaccinate, a large % of them do, and “herd immunity” is achieved. In general, I support this, but I respect people who are more libertarian and see things differently on this issue.

        • Lauren

          This is about FORCE, not about which vaccination camp you fall into. Families should make those decisions not government. Who owns your body? Knowing that you own your own body you get to decide what goes into it. If you are a minor then your parents have the final say. Failing to understand this idea has allowed gov. to wage a war against property rights, which is the foundation for the rule of law.

  • http://www.736hundred.tumblr.com 736hundred

    Listening…….Silence……Let me ask you this, you say not to ” exude confidence and demonstrate intelligence.” How do you feel about someone speaking passionately about a topic dear to their heart?

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      I think that’s always fine.

  • http://doktoryun.wordpress.com/ Dok Yun

    Interesting caveat to ‘listen in humility’ is difficulty in getting over the initial social hump, and actually having other people talk to you.  Most people don’t like to entertain you.  Especially if you are being defaulted to asking questions because you have nothing interesting to say.  Here, confidence comes into play.  I would almost revise the tagline to, ‘listen confidently’.  Ask questions like they owe you answers.  Be genuine, an active listener.  Don’t let people confuse humility with low self-esteem.  Armed with humility and confidence bordering irreverence, the world is your learning playground.  You will make lot more playmates along the way, too.  

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      Great advice.

  • Derek

    Excellent post as usual. And i disagree with a previuos comment, i love your political and religious posts. You hit the nail on the head every day

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      Thank you. I disagree with it as well.

  • Guest

    James, great advice for a cosmopolitan jet-setter like yourself who mingles with the rich and famous, but what about the rest of us who are surrounded by dumb bunnies?

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      I’m not sure how much mingling I do. More like ogling. Or dangling. And, on occasion, caroling. So basically the advice is for the rest of the time.

  • http://twitter.com/Rwidjajakusuma Ricky Widjajakusuma

    Totally. That’s what I always do. Ask listen ask listen. You’ll be a better man for it

  • jadoube

    Disagree about chess? How many dumb grandmasters do you know? Name one.

  • Pkinvst

    JA,

    Though I agree with all your points, you are forgetting one important aspect.  In your example, you did the following:

     I asked him why he’s moving to Houston.

    You see, you emphatize with the fellow by sharing your observation of his activities.  What you did was something called active “listening”, “observing”…

  • Syren

    There is no way you are 100 IQ points lower than Padma Lakshmi.  That would be negative points.

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      Don’t judge, please. She is much more than you might think.

  • Guest

    I found your doppelganger… folk singer from my country has a band, and one of the guitar players looks like carbon-copy of you… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UY4wp-L0KO8

  • Robbo

    “And when the aliens land and say, “we are going to talk to your leader”,
    everyone around you will be surprised when the aliens go straight to
    you.”

    I won´t be in the least surprised when the aliens go straight to you, James.

    PS I loved this piece and the aliens line put a smile on my face which will stay there the rest of the day

  • Jonathan WIlde

    Were you drunk when you wrote this James?

  • Jonathan WIlde

    Were you drunk when you wrote this James?

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      Can potato chips make me drunk?

      • http://www.pacificmelody.wordpress.com/ Melody J Haislip

        Yes, but only the ones with sea salt.

  • K Smith

    James, you write about wisdom. Wisdom used to be taught by example, by our moms and dads, our grandpas and grandmas. They punctuated it with an occasional explanation.

    What you have written about here is not new. It can be summed up by the old saw – “God gave each of us 2 ears and one mouth. Take a hint from God and use you ears more than your mouth.”

    In our culture we have forgotten how to be wise. Thanks for all the great reminders.

  • K Smith

    James, you write about wisdom. Wisdom used to be taught by example, by our moms and dads, our grandpas and grandmas. They punctuated it with an occasional explanation.

    What you have written about here is not new. It can be summed up by the old saw – “God gave each of us 2 ears and one mouth. Take a hint from God and use you ears more than your mouth.”

    In our culture we have forgotten how to be wise. Thanks for all the great reminders.

  • Bob

    because everyone else has probably had different experiences than the rest of us is why I always listen and learn. The best way until one can develop “Vulcan mind meld” abilities.

  • Michael3223

    Actually what you are doing is “outsmarting” the room by appearing to be the dumbest.

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      I don’t know. I really do think in most cases I’m just there to avoid looking foolish.

  • W Baker

    Enjoyed the article, James.  What if you’re in a room filled with politicians?  Do one still assume  the least intelligence?  

    Hope not.

    I’ve been in several of those rooms, and though your advice works with normal folks, trying to act two shades less bright than a rock might not be possible.  

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      You bring up a great point, W. In which case, the above advice still applies, i.e be quiet and listen. Because you’re never going to convince the fools. They’ve brainwashed and only de-programming in an isolated cabin with electric shock treatments will help. Not lectures from you, or me, or anyone else. Plus, gives us all a chance to practice the humility thing.

  • W Baker

    Does not “do”!

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_37ACT4YKOPOCL5AQNKSFC7GDEI Jolie

    I loved this dinner, I appreciated this column and I am continually amazed that people assume someone beautiful or accomplished or both couldn’t possibly also have a high IQ. My, does that reveal a lot. A measure of a person should include the friendships they share, the generosity they display and the decency they wield. James, thanks for leading by example.

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      Thanks, Jolie. I think what happens is, people project. They get jealous or frightened or feel that the world has treated them unfairly and then someone who exemplifies everything they want to be (the person you are referring to) becomes a convenient target for the trolls to take out their hostility.

  • rabbit tobacco

    I believe it was emerson who wrote: if life has taught me anything, it’s acquiesence and humility.
    so you’re in good company.

  • Coalvilleut

    Mighty different point of view. I like it. Thanks. I needed it because I almost always talk too much and think I am right.

  • S.V.

    “we are going to talk to your leader”, everyone around you will be surprised when the aliens go straight to you….
    This sounds like poetry! Amazing post!

  • http://twitter.com/Joshiedooozie J

    How does denigrating the self, thwarting one’s intelligence– if one has any — equate to one appearing, or being intelligent? How does that work exactly? Sure, one can be a good listener, but playing dumb can only go so far. Do you actually think that people are going to respect some pathetic, docile, wretched creature that lets anyone do anything and everything without saying a word? Those are the people that get trampled in the working world. It’s a jungle out there, and if you don’t stand up for yourself, the beasts are going to tear you to pieces. 
    Self-esteem and confidence are key, and you’re practically telling one to put up a facade of mediocrity as to appear intelligent?  
    By the way, smart, intelligent people don’t need to prove anything to anyone. They simply are. It’s the wretched and mediocre that put facades to appear intelligent, but come out looking arrogant, ridiculous, and pathetic. Good point about listening though.

    • Alfie

       While it is always good to listen closely…
      I think this is advice that works great if you are already operating high enough up the situational food chain. Perhaps  playing a social zero one may gather valuable data and appear enigmatic. But so many come from a place where they really are wise and yet, overlooked, irrelevant and  tragically ineffective in the world. Why? Because they are invisible.

  • judy

    James,

    I can’t wait to have my husband read this.  I haved shared many of your stories with him before and he thinks you are making them up, he doesn’t believe your being honest, thinks you make up your stories to make for interesting reads.  I don’t think he can say that about this one.  BTW I really appreciate your blogs, true or not they do deliver a sweet subtleness to a powerful punch and are some great life lessons regardless of the origin. 

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      Hi Judy. Thanks very much. I can assure you also every single post on this blog is true. Else, i’m afraid I’m not very good at fiction.

  • Fred

    I cannot help but notice that the mess America is in has been created by Ivy League educated individuals. I’m sure they all consider themselves the smartest in any room.

  • Fred

    I cannot help but notice that the mess America is in has been created by Ivy League educated individuals. I’m sure they all consider themselves the smartest in any room.

  • Fred

    I cannot help but notice that the mess America is in has been created by Ivy League educated individuals. I’m sure they all consider themselves the smartest in any room.

  • BF

    This is singularly the most useful article I’ve ever read regarding personal growth! Thank you, James!

  • Anonymous

    James,

    I’m a first time reader and I enjoyed reading your blog. Your blog is now number #1 on my daily list.

  • Anonymous

    James,

    I’m a first time reader and I enjoyed reading your blog. Your blog is now number #1 on my daily list.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_GNB2D2LXS73E4REGNYQGYSSCNE Georgie H

    James, human action is originated exclusively be the choice of a goal, to which a chosen means in pursuit of that goal is applied, via human action,  into reality’s physical processes of cause and effect.    Actions presumed to be the means to desired consequences are either originated by  “knowledge” resulting in successful goal achievement,  or  “errors, believed to be knowledge,”  resulting in unexpected, sometimes disastrous consequences.  It follows that “smart” is irrelevant, because only those who are “right” enjoy the results of knowledge,  while avoiding the disasters of error.

  • http://www.marketmentat.com GT

    Great piece – but like many I retched when you claimed that you were 100 IQ points below some set of media-whores and tax parasites (becoming Prime Minister of a thing means you’re a megalomaniac and a sociopath… it doesn’t require brains).

    Also good of you to point out that being good at chess is meaningless – one of my fave posts of all time, anywhere, is “You Are Not A Genius” http://bit.ly/k8MQIH which is about precisely that.

    I had a different trajectory in grad school – I was a golden boy and got straight Firsts in Masters coursework (Economics and Econometrics) and a priority scholarship for PhD… but by mid 1999 I was sick to death of academia and understood that having a doctorate served no purpose except if I wanted to become a research academic (which I didn’t).

    Learning stuff by letting others talk is quite manipulative, though – and it doesn’t shock me that Sergey Brin (a shameless self-hagiographer) would waste everybody’s time when he clearly thinks he has the ‘seichel’ to evaluate people in seconds. Why 20 minutes? Why not be HONEST (one of your fave nostrums) and simply say, fifteen seconds in, “Nope – you’re not gonna fit here. NEXT!”.

    Answer: not some bullshit about learning from people, but rather a deliberate effort to cultivate an image. My first job interview after collage lasted 12 minutes; after pleasantries and stuff about the company’s stock price, it went like this:

    Otto (the CEO): “I’m going to offer you the job.” 
    Me: “Well then, I’m going to take it.” 
    Otto: “We haven’t talked about salary and so on.”
    Me: “I’ll turn up and have a go at doing the job. If I’m no good you can sack me. If not, then after a while you’ll put some money in my bank. If it’s not enough I’ll complain or leave.”

    It worked out OK for a couple of years.

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      why so angry at all these people. such a short post you listed like10 people you thought were idiots, sociopaths, hagiograhers or whatever.

      • http://www.736hundred.tumblr.com 736hundred

        James, You write often about people’s fear and anger, I never realize it was so wide spread effecting everyone. Your presentation should be about the “FHA” factor, Fear Honesty Anger

    • http://simplifilm.com Chris Johnson

      Thanks for remembering. 

  • Chuck

    Red Dwarf

  • Hal

    I enjoyed reading this. It made me think of two things, in particular.

    1. If you haven’t read “How To Win Friends and Influence People,” by Dale Carnegie, I think you’d enjoy it.

    2. I was reminded of some excellent advice a very good friend gave me about 10 years ago. He said, “As long as you’re doing the talking, you’re hearing things you already know.” That hit me hard at the time. I’ve never forgotten it, and it’s made a huge difference in my relationships and success.

  • http://www.biosocket.com Mike

    This philosophy doesn’t apply if you happen to be very smart.  Then you’re diluting yourself with dumb ideas.

    I enjoy your blog though, and it’s a breath of fresh air.

    Thanks!

  • http://statspotting.com Statspotting

    I have read the exact opposite advice sometime back. let me check –  (no help from google)
    anyways its about this game where you stick a card to your head, u donno what it is but others can see what it is.

    now u pretend to be king – everyone thinks u r good, just based on how u say it etc. so even someone with a 3 card can win the game

    what u say is the exact opposite. fooled by randomness? here is one more:

    http://statspotting.com/2011/05/network-effect-avoid-or-embrace/

  • Newson Fonseca

    James…
     
    How wise of you, as a lot people urge to share with the world how much they have say as they can’t hear themselves!
    Bravo!
    Newson

  • Jesse

    There was a James who lived a long time ago with very similar advise. He said something like, “Be quick to listen and slow to speak.”

    Something like that.

  • Patrickhenrylives

    I really think you are on to something.  It brilliant in its simplicity.  Prior to this I didn’t enjoy your work, but now that I see where you are coming from I will try to read you in this vain.
    Rich

  • http://twitter.com/Cool_Hand Rob Prince

    I disagree that you are suffering from low self-esteem. Respectfully. :) You are teaching to be humble. I have a stirring feeling lately that humility is the secret to the Universe. And a great way to learn is to listen. Even to arrogant asses… :)

  • Int

    Well spoken!

  • Codele66

    what  can i do the be   smart my  hade  hurt or  have a  hade ick  when i am try to  studing for someting so pls  help me out any one

  • Mark of Digitalrugs

    im down and i know i’m a genius.

  • caroline

    does anyone have any good quotes that go along with the “learning from other concept”

  • CAroline

    Does anyone know any quotes that go along with the theme of this blog post? As far as learning from the people you meet??

  • Mateo

    Does this philosophy still apply if you were in a situation like a job interview? A specific situation in which you are required to impress with your intellect, or superiority. I don’t want to waste the interviewers time by assuming I’m the dumbest and spending most of the time asking questions. How would I approach this?

  • Pete Smith

    I agree with David here. Your point is excellent but having this will actually promote your low self esteem thus actually making you believe you are humiliated. Even though humility is a part of life, it can’t be tolerated all the time. Plus, simply asking them how stuff works shows them that you care and are eager to learn, not stupid and worthless.