What’s the fastest way to identify the most intelligent
people in a group? Start with an easy question. Then ask a complex one.
Say you’re on a Zoom call with your marketing team. You need
ideas on how to spend the last unallocated $5,000 of your campaign budget.
There are a lot of different directions you can go, so whose ideas do you
trust? Shailesh Panthee, a doctor in Nepal, suggests that opening with an easy,
straightforward question is a quick way to reveal who’s eager — maybe too eager
— to prove themselves.
For example, you could say, “Remind me again, what does CTR
stand for?” (CTR means click-through-rate, the percentage of people who click
on an element after viewing it. Most people in marketing know the term.) And
then sit back and listen. Who’s blurting out the answer?
Overeager responders are often so desperate for brownie
points that they forget to consider whether their contribution is even all that
valuable and skip the fact-checking and analysis to go straight for the win.
There’s another reason why smart folks might hesitate to
answer obvious questions: They suspect it’s a trap. I’m not a genius, but as
someone who raised his hand a lot in class, I can say that whenever my English
teacher in Munich asked for straight-up vocabulary translations, I was
skeptical. “Why was she asking us the word for ‘bread’?” I’d wonder. “Is she
hiding a more difficult follow-up question behind this simple opener?”
If you’re on the other side of this equation — leading that
Zoom call — that’s exactly what you should be doing. With the noise cleared
away, you can now drop the actual, more complex, probably more creative ask:
How should we spend our remaining marketing budget? Chances are, now,
Overzealous Oliver and Valerie Validation-Seeker will hold their breath.
They’ll either be content with the approval they’ve snagged from answering the
simple question or, quite frankly, stumped.
The process of drawing out the smarter people in the room
won’t be as cut and dry. You might have to prompt folks by calling them out by
name. They may respond with another question, such as, “What’s our primary goal
in spending the money?” Or they’ll look through their notes — they’ve probably
been quietly pondering for a while. They might be a bit hesitant. They
understand that there’s never just one end-all, be-all answer, and they have no
shame in calling on others to improve on their thinking. Eventually, however,
they will suggest an idea.
If you’re a leader who wants to know who on your team is an
innovative problem-solver, who knows how to think instead of merely what to
think, this is the moment you’re trying to reach.
Smart people know that listening is more valuable than
talking and that neither beats thinking for yourself. They try to avoid
repeating the obvious so they can spend their time and energy on what requires
analysis and creativity.
Being too eager opens us to error and careless mistakes.
Reserve and structured thinking won’t always stand out, but they’re always
Repost: Niklas Göke
Image:chombosan | Getty Images
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