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Surround Yourself with People Smarter than You

Surround Yourself with People Smarter than You

Their brilliance rubs off. Plus, you raise your game.

I just got off of a one-and-a-half hour conference call with my branding business partner in England and a physician in Germany. We were discussing addiction, intrinsic motivation, and how to appeal to someone who … doesn’t want to be appealed to.

It was early morning here in California, but end of day for them in Europe. I had my creative brief in front of me, my notes at the ready, a decent phone connection, it was as quiet as it was going to get, and I was focused and ready to add intelligent input. Back and forth we struggled about how to pique the interest of those who aren’t interested. How physicians see the topic, how patients see it, how we see it. How to make it sound appealing. We were all over the map, then concentrated discussion and squeezing each other for information as it will help us all as a team work through the project.

We are chameleons: we adapt to the environment. If that environment is below your pay grade, you’ll adapt. If it’s above, you’ll adapt.

Listening to what my partner said and then to something the doctor said something hit me to bring those two points together in something of a summary. I made my point as eloquently as I could–also working to keep the English to a polished level the German would understand–and my point hit home.

When you challenge yourself, when you actually use your brain and work it out, you “get smarter.”

Had I been talking to people I admired and respected less, I might not have worked my thoughts into such a summary, but rather made a comment that first popped into my head. But because the bar was raised, because “it was a tough crowd,” I brought my own game up. I held off with the friendly banter and put it into overdrive and felt the pistons working in my head and churning, working, thinking to come up with a response.

How often do you get off a work conference call (or ANY call for that matter!) and say, “Wow, I love this. I love doing this. I love this job.” I’ll go first: not very often. You could say that the others on the call (or on the project or in your workplace) don’t challenge you, that they lower the bar so you don’t need to think or work or use your brain. OK, fine, I get it. But then don’t talk to them as much. Talk to those who will raise the bar, raise your bar,  force you to bring up the level of the conversation.

It’s tiring, it’s effort, it’s work. But otherwise, you’re just going through the motions.

But we have every minute of every day of going through the motions. Most of our day might be just getting by, making the best of it, just getting the job done. So when we have a chance to up the ante, to bring it to a higher level and, gasp, learn something and stretch our limits, something important happens: we rise to the occasion. When we do that, we learn, we improve, and in my opinion, we love it.

This is what excites me, this is what I love to do. In a more “active” way, this qualifies as being in the Lounge Chair of Timeless Oblivion. I’m where I want to be: it’s hard, I’m looking forward to it being over because “it hurts my brain” but I know it’s good for me and I’m growing with it. This is the good stuff.

We'll adapt to our surroundings--for better or worse. [Cherating, Malaysia]

We’ll adapt to our surroundings–for better or worse. [Cherating, Malaysia]


  1. Another Clean Slate

    I definitely tend to work harder and smarter when I am around people who challenge me. I tend to get lazy when I’m around lazy people- I need to be better about that. Maybe then I would raise the bar for them!

    • Bradley

      Isn’t it crazy how that works!? I find that you also Learn by Teaching so if you’re around lazy people or people who know less about a topic than you do, go into teaching mode. This one can be tricky and you don’t want to be condescending, but rather helpful and valued. It’s a fine line to cross, but if they value your expertise, it can be Win Win.


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