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The Brightest? Not Hardly!

Watson and Crick, the discoverers of DNA—the secret of life—were asked why, with all the other brilliant scientists pursuing the answer, they were the ones who found it. After giving 4 or 5 expected “Aw, shucks…” answers, Watson observed: “We were not the most intelligent scientists pursuing it.” Further, referring to Rosalind Franklin, a British scientist working in Paris, he said: “Rosalind was so intelligent that she rarely sought advice. And if you’re the brightest person in the room, then you’re in trouble.” *

Didn’t collaborate or share. Didn’t look to other sources, to other genius. Went it alone. According to Watson, she was well-intentioned but foolhardy. She, like most of us, said, “I can do it myself.”

Too often, because we’re life-smart and self-reliant, we don’t pay attention to others and we ignore valuable sources of help. We discard the power of the “mastermind,” which encourages exploring innovative ideas and varied perspectives from others, saving us time and energy by avoiding duplication of effort.

The danger of being “the brightest person in the room” is that we rely on one person, one way, one view: our own. We miss so much, like discovering “the secret of life.” We don’t receive the benefit from those others, their creativity, their outside view, their unique experience. It does seem foolhardy, doesn’t it?

Knowledge is empirical, cumulative, growing, and converging. Even Isaac Newton, a brilliant—and arrogant—genius, said: “If I’ve seen farther, it’s because I’ve stood on the shoulders of giants.” Don’t be “the brightest person in the room,” too foolhardy to consider other people and their ideas. Let’s all stand a little higher on the shoulders of others—with others—and go further together than ever we would on our own.

* from Yes! by Dr. Robert Cialdini, Noah Goldstein, Steve J. Martin

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  • bartleby says:

    In Franklin’s defense, she may not have met with the same collegiality when she attempted to share ideas as her male peers did. Or, she may have been aware that her male colleagues could steal her ideas and get away with it—which is what happened. Watson and Crick didn’t acknowledge her contribution when they published. Crick only gave her any credit after she died.

    Good general advice, though. If I’m really and truly the smartest person in the room, I’m in the wrong room.