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Smartest Person in the Room

Mike Mangino

August 1, 2022

When I was younger, I expected that my knowledge of computers and programming would instantly earn me respect. I thought I lived in a meritocratic world where promising ideas would rise to the top themselves. I was shocked and surprised when I didn’t immediately gain the respect of my coworkers. I was even more astonished that I couldn’t get my ideas implemented.

In the ensuing 25 years, I’ve learned much about why I failed in my younger days. Primarily, my ideas weren’t as good as I thought they were. I was deep in the grips of the Dunning-Kruger effect. I didn’t know enough to realize how little I knew. While my ideas seemed good to me, those with more knowledge were able to see the many flaws they contained.

A close second reason for my lack of impact was my attitude towards the people with whom I worked. I made it clear that my coworkers were my competition and that I wanted to win. I wanted to be seen as the smartest person in the room. Being personally right was more important than a good outcome for the company.

I’m thankful to say that I’ve changed a lot since these early days. Firstly, I’m quite happy not being the smartest person in the room. It doesn’t take much time for our engineering team to see that. Just as important, I’ve learned that it takes more than just a good idea to make a real impact. It’s often quite difficult to assess which of several ideas is ultimate going to be the best idea. A good salesperson can make their idea sound better than it is. With the complexity with which we work with every day, we can’t necessarily spend enough time evaluating every decision. Instead, we use heuristics to decide which ideas are best.

One of the most important heuristics I use is the trustworthiness of the person proposing an idea. If I know that you care deeply about our shared success, I can be confident that you will offer the ideas you think are best. Just as important, I know that you will change your plan when you learn something that changes your mind. If I know you care about what matters to me, I’m much more likely to trust your ideas. This quote from Brené Brown resonates strongly with me:

“No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”

– Brené Brown

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Mike Mangino
About the Author

Mike Mangino

Mike Mangino is the Chief Technology Officer for TriumphPay where he leads the development and dissemination of advanced technologies that improve and increase business for our customers and TriumphPay. Prior to joining TriumphPay, Mike was the Chief Technology Officer for HubTran where he was responsible for designing and building software to automate back-office payables for the transportation industry and built and managed a team of engineers including software development, DevOps and customer support.

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