Learning from others, with humility.

Whilst recently researching the career of comedy actor director Harold Ramis, I stumbled upon a quote he used to give to anyone who asked for advice on progressing their career:

“Identify the most talented person in the room, and if it’s not you – go stand next to them!”

When I finished laughing I realised that not only was this funny, but there was also so much truth in this statement.

We are always surrounded by people (currently they surround us from a distance of 2 metres, but still), whether at work or at home. Those around us have skills and experience we don’t – and vice versa.

I spoke with my partner and Cordial Fox co-founder Jasmin Egner (a Whole Person Certified Coach), about this idea. It reminded her of something she had heard previously.

“Sometime in my late 20s I came across this quote and it was an eye opener: ‘If you’re the smartest person in the room you’re in the wrong room.’ What a fantastic approach! There’s a humility in it, which keeps your ego in check and prevents posturing. So many of us have been conditioned to never admit knowledge gaps and that’s so incredibly unhelpful. Only if we’re aware of our knowledge gaps we can work on filling them. And if we’re allowing ourselves to connect from a place of curiosity we can learn a lot from others. I love that.”

This really struck a chord with me, that one of the best ways to improve yourself by learning from others, is to be open to not only hearing from them, but also admitting you don’t know everything.

“The best people I speak to are the ones who are successful, humble and happy to help me”, says Tom Cotterill, Co-Founder of design based recruiters Fearless. “You must identify people who are at the top of their game and ask for help. Often the most successful people are the ones who want to give back.”

I remember sitting in a theatre café chatting with comedy legend Gene Wilder 24 years ago having tentatively asked him for a single tip on breaking into acting. He spent the next thirty minutes or so chatting with me, not just idle chit-chat, but really getting to know me, what I wanted to achieve and then giving me his take on what I needed to do. He wouldn’t even let me pay for my coffee!

Throughout my career I have found so many people like him who have been extremely generous with their time and experience; offering advice or just happy to answer any questions I had. It’s one of the reasons I now mentor creatives.

So the advice to anyone wanting to better understand where they are in the scheme of things and how they can improve seems to follow a pattern:

  1. Discover and acknowledge to yourself areas where you feel you need to grow and / or solidify your knowledge.
  2. Openly talk about these areas, or gaps, when talking with others who have the relevant experience, or might be able to put you in touch with those that do.
  3. Act like a sponge and soak it up!

I would add to that to pay it back whenever you can.

If you need clarity or help self-identifying the areas you’d like to grow in, coaching is a fantastic road to self-discovery and I can’t recommend Jasmin enough. Get in touch with her here to book a free initial chat.

If you’re looking to find that next career move in design, or want to help become part of a growing community of designers then get in touch with Tom on LinkedIn.

If you think mentoring would help, drop me a note here too.

Or do all three!

Adam Jennings, Cordial Fox Co-Founder & Creative Leader

Adam Jennings is co-founder of Cordial Fox Limited. He has 25 years of experience in the creative industries, working with clients such as Microsoft, 20th Century Fox, Paramount Pictures, BBC Worldwide and Penguin Random House. Adam is available for creative and strategic consultancy, creative support, public speaking and creative mentoring.