Effective > Smart

Share This Post

Published in The Business News on October 20th, 2021.

An IT coworker once told me that, “ IT guys struggle to accept others ideas, because we are too used to being the smartest people in the room”. What he meant was, “your idea cannot possibly be better than mine, because I am smarter than you”. Here are the problems with that line of thinking:

  1. There is a pretty good chance that you are not the smartest person in the room.
  2. “Smart” is a relative term. Smart how? You know the most about IT? Highest IQ? Most education? More experience? Using what criteria, are we measuring your smarts?
  3. Having a closed mind to other’s ideas, is one of the stupidest things you can do.

While you may be more knowledgeable about a specific subject matter, or even genuinely more intelligent than someone else, you should always consider that the solution to a specific problem, may be best solved through new ideas or by leveraging another person’s experience. Ask yourself; is your ultimate goal for the problem to be solved, or for you to solve the problem.

Right vs. Effective

There are a lot of old sayings and business essays about the difference between being right vs being effective. Humans are emotional creatures and far too often, we let emotion dictate our choices.

I have fallen victim to this, far too often in my career. While I have gotten older and wiser, as I progressed up the corporate food-chain, I still find myself, on occasion, “telling someone how it is”, instead of seeking to gain a mutual understanding, and progressing together toward a shared goal. Right vs effective.

I’m right when I tell someone that their laptop is a piece of junk and they need to buy a new one. I am effective when I work with them to establish their needs and a budget for PC-level equipment. That is an easy one.

How about something more complex?

I was right when I called you out for being a jerk in a meeting. You were a jerk. I’m right, but am I effective? Effective in further perpetuating a fight maybe… The effective approach would have addressed the situation, behavior and outcome.

The situation may be delays in a project and a boss who is putting unfair pressure on the team for results. Your behavior is to be a jerk. The outcome is, still no progress on the project, but we are all mad at each other. For me to be effective, I need to get the project back on track and show the boss some results.

I start by addressing your behavior, empathetically: I too am frustrated by this project and by the boss’ pressure. We are in this together. Let’s be friends.

Then, I propose a solution and provide options: If we come in on Saturday, I can take tasks one and two, and you can do tasks three and four. Or, if you want, we can just work late on Friday.

With that, we’re friendly and working together toward a shared goal. The boss will be off of our backs in no time.

In the end, and to be honest, I still think that you are a jerk. But that doesn’t really matter. The project is complete, and I still have a job, so there is no denying the effectiveness.

In my opinion, being smart isn’t about being right. Smart people do not have all of the answers, all of the time. Smart people know how to get answers. Smart people show results. Smart people are effective.

Your Only Human

Now, don’t beat yourself up, if you let emotion take the wheel, from time to time. You are, after all, only human. Think of it like dieting. If you fall off the wagon and eat an entire bag or Ores in on sitting (we’ve all be there, right?), that doesn’t mean quit. Just get back at it tomorrow. The same is true, with your right vs. effective choices.

Recognize your behavior, the situations that led to that behavior and the outcome. Work to avoid those situations. Learn from your actions. You won’t be effective all the time, or overnight, but you will get smarter with your choices.

Call it professional maturity or emotional intelligence. You can call it whatever you want, but the point is to analyze your situation, be smart and effective with your behaviors and learn from your outcomes.

I’ve been in IT for 25 years and I’ve never really considered whether or not I was the smartest person in the room. I have, however, considered myself lucky, to work with some very effective people. Moral of the story: Effective > Smart.

Article published in The Business News on October 20th, 2021.