As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.
The average person is intimidated by smart people. I know firsthand: Whenever people find out what I scored on an SAT exam, they are shocked. (I have very proud relatives.) Some try to stump me on the spot with a complex riddle or math question. Others just look at me in disbelief or with gut-wrenching jealousy. I can sense their fear of being judged. They watch their grammar and double-check their math; some point out a major accomplishment of their own or try to sound as learned as possible. It’s an awkward situation, but I know it’s only human nature at work. We’d all like to think that we are the smartest person in the room even if we know it’s not true.
If given a choice to spend a week quarantined with really smart people or people of average intelligence, the average Jane would choose people of average intelligence. Who can blame her? But what a tragedy! It’s as if Jane’s fear, ego, or yearning to fit in prevents her from growing and learning. Overcoming this feeling of insecurity is the first step to ascending to greatness.
When in high school, I learned the value of hanging around brilliant people. Somehow I ended up befriending some really bright students. I make it sound coincidental, but the relationships I developed were probably strong because I was a social outcast, too, like they were. The geeks always are, right? Nevertheless, the end result was the same; I was able to learn so much from them and therefore increase my abilities. For example, in 1996, we were building dynamic websites for interactive presentations in class. Also, we were using programs to exchange data via our infrared ports on our Hewlett Packard scientific calculators. (And no, we didn’t use the program to cheat!) We were ahead of our times in many ways. Many of my friends went on to Harvard, MIT, and other great schools.
Today, I continue to maintain an ever-expanding circle of intelligent people. My circle includes longtime CEOs, technologists, investors, and others, many of whom come from the top universities and companies in the world. They make me feel inadequate and sometimes just really stupid, but I am OK with that because I know that I learn so much from them. It’s not easy to find and to develop solid relationships with smart people, especially as you grow older, but it’s worth the effort.
Several quotations eloquently convey my point. For example, business philosopher and author E. James Rohn says, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” I especially like this quotation because it incorporates mathematics, and it forces you to think about who those five people are. Likewise, this quotation is popular in Spanish-speaking countries: “Dime con quién andas y te diré quién eres.” Roughly translated, it means, “Tell me who you associate with, and I’ll tell you who you are.” As these quotations imply, we cannot help but pick up the habits and thoughts of those around us. Therefore, it behooves every entrepreneur—and anyone else who strives for success—to be surrounded with the brightest and best minds.