There once was a woman who grew up on a farm in South Dakota. Her family raised pigs. She worked hard, and the farm was successful, but she longed for something better in her life. So she left the farm, went off to pursue a higher education, graduated, and moved to the big city. There she found a job, worked hard, and became a manager. She wasn’t necessarily the smartest employee, nor the most popular or the easiest person to get along with, but she was a competent and content employee. She carved out a place for herself.
At the same time, there once was a woman who grew up in the big city. She was very bright. She worked hard, and was very competent wherever she worked. She wasn’t always the most popular, but her focus was on getting the job right, and that she did.
One day the intellectual was hired to work for the farmer. They came from different worlds, and saw things in different ways. The farmer was fiercely proud of her accomplishments and her position within the company, and she saw the intellectual as a threat. Soon, they became involved in a project – a marketing survey. The farmer felt less than 200 people would take the survey providing little data, and that it would be a waste of time. They began to fight over how to complete the project, each claiming that her way was the better way. The farmer stood her ground as did the intellectual. The intellectual was so sure the marketing survey would be succcessful and provide invaluable data, she went around her boss and pleaded her case to the CEO who hired her. She was given the go-ahead to put out the survey.
It turned out the intellectual was right, in that a staggering 3,200 people took the survey. In fact, the survey provided an enormous amount of precious data. Later that day, the CEO called her on the phone and said this: “This is your last day here. You’ve obviously proven incapable of working with your colleague to get your work done. It isn’t working, and it isn’t going to work so I need you to pack up and someone will escort you out.”
Was the intellectual right? Yes. Was the treatment of the intellectual unfair? Sure. Now what?
This is not an uncommon scenario. In fact, it’s far too common a scenario, particularly with those whom I will loosely catagorize as “intellectuals.” Although the situations might vary, the basic script remains the same, especially the part about the intellectuals receiving phone calls and being escorted out of buildings.
In school, we are taught that being right seems to trump everything else. In business, and in life, almost the opposite is true. The companies I have worked for prioritized being a team player, getting along with others, and getting along with your manager. These things were considered more valuable than being the smartest person on the team. Quite simply, here’s what I believe to be true:
- It’s not always about being right. It’s about being a team player.
- It’s okay to be the smartest person in the room, but with an understanding regarding the right time and place to display it.
- It’s not okay making others around you feel less intelligent then you… ever.
There’s a time, a place, and a way to be right. It’s a blindspot, not just for intellectuals but for anyone who places being right above being sensitive to your surroundings. Allowing others to be right, even when you believe there is a better way, is not a weakness of character: It actually displays a strength in character.
Remember “The Pig Farmer and the Intellectual,” and if you do, you’ll remember it’s not about being right; it’s about when to be right.