Brian Rhea Brian Rhea

To Work with a Team So Stunning, I Constantly Feel Dumb

When I started at Mocavo, I was working remote from Dallas because we were still trying to get the house sold and the family moved. I ended every day of my first two weeks with my head hung low. I'd Charlie Brown from my desk over to Laura and say, "They're going to fire me. They're so smart and fast, I just can't keep up. I suck."

Her reaction was appropriate. Somewhere between, "You're being too hard on yourself." and "Well then why aren't you at your computer right now, bruh?"

Over time, the paranoia associated with feeling ludicrously outmatched subsided, but the respect and admiration for the other people I worked with on a daily basis never did.

And that's what I want from here on out: To work with a team that's so stunning, I constantly feel dumb.

It's a scary (and intimidating) feeling to look around and realize that you may be the weakest link, but it also means that you're well-positioned to learn and grow. And learn some more.

Bizspeak aphorisms can be simplistic and exhausting, but I've always liked this one:

If you're the smartest person in the room, you're in the wrong room.

– A Smart Person

For me, the hardest obstacle to overcome in those situations where you are in "the right room" is finding the courage to ask for help.

Asking for Help Looks Like:

Literally asking for help. "Hey yo, I have no idea how this works. Explain like I'm five." That's easy when it's a big hairy monster, but when it's one of those things you think you should know by now – and you can usually tell – it's harder, but don't waste half a day running in circles, just ask.

Speaking up in a meeting when someone makes a reference that you don't get, but everyone else in the group is nodding yes. "Wait, wut? Sorry, what's a KPI?" Chances are decent that someone else who was just nodding thought, "Oh-sweet-sassy-molassey-thank-you-for-asking-that."

Admitting you don't know what to do. Sometimes all the research in the world leads you to a coin flip at best or a roulette wheel at worst. If that's all you've got, then present that and talk it out. Decisiveness is productive, yes. And assuming that you're right when you're in doubt is a good way to force yourself towards action. But, when I'm stumped, and I know I've got a team of brilliant people willing to jump in to a problem with me, I've found that good things happen when you say, "Peeps. I'm stumped on this one. What do you think?"

The Golden Rule Applies

(as it is wont to do)

I think having the freedom to admit gaps in your understanding without janking up your reputation leads to a team where trust, growth, and mutual respect are a given. If I believe that, and if I want that freedom from my co-workers and friends, then I'd better be sure I'm always communicating the idea that asking me for help or exposing some ignorance to me is a safe thing to do. I'm afraid I'm much better at this at work than in my personal life.

Anyway, never say stupid shit like:

  • You didn't know that?
  • I'm surprised you didn't know that.
  • Really? You haven't heard of that?

You see the pattern. The regular life analog is the dude who can't believe you haven't heard of his new favorite band (who opens for the opener and has sold about two-thousand-and-four albums isn't even on Spotify Apple Music). I'm susceptible to this one and want to be way better.

It's always ok to not know something and admit it. Especially if you're grindstone committed to getting it right from here on out.

Good luck, and here's to being the dumbest person in the room.

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