How Can I Identify The Smartest Person In The Room?

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How can I identify the smartest person in the room?

This question originally appeared on Quora, the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights. Some questions on Quora stimulate responses and discussions that continue for years.

Judging from the answers below, the appearance of smartness doesn’t have much to do with intelligence. It seems to have more to do with who’s asking the questions.

Answers by William Beteet, Niklas Göke, Eric Kelly, Aman Khanna, Ed Caruthers, Aleksandr Mazo, Gerald Weinberg, Ankit Jain, Abdullah Shiryar.

William Beteet, worked at Stand-Up Comedians

Universal intelligence doesn’t exist. Sure there are people who have higher IQs than others, but there is no person who has an expertise in everything.

So rather than looking for someone who has the highest IQ, who might be able to help you with quantum mechanics but would be horrible at telling you what to do with a faulty transmission, look for the person who is smartest in the domain you are most interested in at the time.

For example, I am deeply interested in the relationship between AI and Communism. So at a dinner party I will walk around and lead conversations around those two themes. Many people will give back vague or cliche answers, but eventually I’ll stumble upon someone who will say something like

“Well once humanity reaches the technological singularity, it’s very likely we will shift towards post-scarcity economic infrastructures”

Found him! That guy/girl will likely be the smartest person in the room about the subject that I want to talk about.

A lot of people will say things like “Look for the person observing and asking questions,” but I’ve been in enough social situations to see that there are people who are introverts and unintelligent, and people who ask a lot of question who don’t actually know anything.

The quickest way is to engage and disengage in rapid succession about subjects and topics that interest you.

Because once again, it doesn’t matter if they have an IQ of 250, if they are interested in subject matter that is not closely related your interest/expertise, the conversation/connection will likely be wasted, as you won’t be able to learn beyond the basics from them, and they will be incredibly bored talking to a neophyte like you.

Niklas Göke, works at Four Minute Books

How you find out who’s the smartest highly depends on the kind of room you’re in.

I think the most important thing for you to do, whenever you enter a room, is to be smart about how you analyze it.

Don’t jump to conclusions too fast. Don’t read signs that aren’t there. Empathy takes time to unfold.

I just try to pay attention to who’s paying attention. Can I notice when other people notice things? Who else is curious? Who’s asking questions? Who’s listening?

There are so many ways to be smart unrelated to intelligence, and I think considering the context of your environment and how it affects people sure is one of them.

It might not make you the smartest person in the room, but it’ll sure make you smarter and that’s always the right next step to take.

Eric Kelly, Director of Sales Central Region

In business and social settings it is pretty easy to identify who the most powerful or influential person in the room is. They have the fanciest title, everyone around them is seeking their approval, and when they make a statement the group falls into agreement. It’s very easy to identify the most powerful person in the room, but the most powerful person is very rarely the smartest person.

So how do you identify the brains of the operation? The man/woman behind the curtain so to speak. In my experience there is a little trick that can be helpful in picking this person out of the crowd.

Watch who the most powerful person looks at after they answer a question.

When we make statements or answer questions we instinctually check to make sure the others around us approve. Humans are social creatures and the approval of our peers is important. More important than peer approval however is receiving validation from someone who we view as a thought leader or an expert in a given topic.

This is why you see so many people on media sites like Quora get excited when a Top Writer up-votes or comments on their answer to a question. That Top Writer is seen as an expert so gaining their approval must mean that what you had to say was important and correct. Sure each up-vote counts as one, but that specific one carries the weight of an industry leader behind it.

So that’s a little habit I have gotten into. When I’m in a meeting or at a conference, I always watch who the most senior person in the room looks to for approval after answering a question. Who do they loop in to provide additional insight?

There is a great example of this in the Movie “Moneyball”. Brad Pitt is in a meeting with his coaches and scouts discussing the players they are going to bring in to fill out their roster for the coming season. Every time the staff questions him or the new philosophy that he is attempting to roll out, he looks to Jonah Hill’s character.

Scout: “But he can’t throw.”

Pitt: “But what can he do?”

*Pitt Points at Hill*

Hill: “You want me to speak?”

Pitt: “When I point at you, I want you to speak.”

Hill: “He gets on base.”

Pitt: “He Gets On Base!”

Pitt is the most powerful person in the room, he is the Oakland A’s general manager and final word on everything. When the questions get tough however he turns to the number-cruncher from sector 7G* to give him the validation that his argument is sound and his theory is correct.

See, Pitt’s character in the film is the visionary, he’s building a reality based on an idea, but Hill’s character is the brain that conceived of that idea. When Pitt potentially has doubt, or just wants to know that he isn’t crazy when others disagree, he looks to his expert to validate him.

So my advice to you is this. When you find yourself in a room full of people and you are wondering who the most intelligent person is, just let the most powerful person in the room tell you. You don’t have to ask them to tell you, just watch who they seek out approval from when they make statements and give an answer to a question.

Aman Khanna, A constructivist; M.A in Pol. Sc.; Psychology savant.

– They are good listeners. They believe by listening and chaffing out unnecessary stuff they will enhance their knowledge.
– They are simple. They believe in looking (at) things, problems from various angles.
– They cross-question if they need. This is not arrogancy. They are genuinely interested.
– They talk crisp, sharp and practice brevity.
– They are the ones whom the class points out when all of them gave up. It is because in a classroom, the peers are together for some time and they know who is the apple among the oranges.

Ed Caruthers, I’ve known a lot of smart people in my life


The smartest guy in the room gets it the first time. And remembers. And gets everything else. And can evaluate all the possibilities and make the right decision. And is usually meeting with other really smart guys.

Aleksandr Mazo, COO at Risk-AI (2008-present)

Between my government work and private FinTech work, I have had meetings with a lot of brilliant people in IT, engineering and FinTech sectors. There are generally a few characteristics which, in my humble opinion, set them apart from the rest of the people in the meetings. These are:

They listen a lot more than they speak.
They pause before they answer a question.
They ask questions to simplify the matter and/or to remove ambiguity, which shows that they are actively listening and trying to avoid potential conflicts or misunderstandings in the topic.
They are confident. Even their body language conveys confidence through their posture (not slouching), hands out of pockets, sometimes fingers slightly touching the chin or the temple, which normally indicates awareness and an active thought process, etc.
They are not afraid to say “I don’t know (yet)” if they don’t feel they have enough insight on the subject for it to be useful. I’ve seen plenty of people trying to come off as “know it all” and just making fools of themselves.
Let me conclude with a phrase which I find intelligent and funny simultaneously: it’s better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt


Gerald Weinberg, I’ve dedicated my life to helping smart people be happy.

This question assumes that “smart” is some kind of linear measure (perhaps by that dangerously simplistic IQ measure). It is an assumption that will create a lot of trouble for you and anyone else who uses it.

Siimply put, there are many different kinds of “smart,” and the smartest person for one problem/situation may be the dumbest in another.

Instead of looking for the one “smartest” person when you work in a team or meeting, try identifying the special smartness of each person. Then use that identification to steer problems/questions toward the best person for that problem or question.

Ankit Jain, resident physician at New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation (2015-present)

Smart people have a pattern. I have been around a lot of smart people while growing up and working in different regions of the world. I am mentioning below some of the tricks that they use by which you can identify them.

7 wonders (tricks) of smart people

Smart people always ask a lot of questions.
By asking questions they always pay more attention in the beginning of any task.
By paying more attention in the beginning they try to decode the basics of that task.
After decoding the basics they follow the same sequence of steps every single time to do that task.
After following, learning and making that sequence their reflex, they try to shorten the time period in which that particular task can be done.
Time that is saved by shortening the task: they use that time to learn something new.
In learning something new they apply the same 6 principles mentioned above
Sometimes you just don’t find any answers. In that case, you should leave the room 😉

Abdullah Shiryar, studied Computer Science

They are calm.

It is very hard to read the facial expressions of very smart people
During a conversation they usually remain calm, and you won’t instantly know if they agree with you or not.
They don’t easily get excited or frustrated.
They are good listeners.

They listen very actively and passionately, and will make it easier for others to open up.
They let everyone else express their opinions about a particular subject before providing their own opinion.
They tend to listen a lot more than they speak, so when they start to say something everyone will immediately pay attention.
They are usually very good at expressing their opinions.

They will speak thoughtfully and slowly
They back their opinions with strong evidence and statistics.
They don’t mind to be proven wrong.

This question, “How can I identify the smartest person in the room?” originally appeared on Quora, the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.

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