One room, smart people, and no agenda

Sometimes the best ideas—for a company, for a school, for a club or organization—come from the newest members. This week, I joined Collegewise Orientation for Class 40, a crop of seven new Collegewisers finding their footing during their first week of work. While enjoying dinner on night one, Zain, one of our new online counselors, shared a deceptively simple approach that just about any group could embrace.

“If you want to get good ideas, put smart people in a room and don’t tell them what to talk about.”

I often push back on the idea of “Let’s have a meeting.” All too often, meetings go too long, involve too many people, and decide nothing other than to schedule yet another meeting. I push to meet only when it’s necessary, to have tight agendas when we do, and to make sure there is a specific outcome intended. I still believe that’s a good approach to meetings at work, but the reminder was a good one.

When college admissions officers are assembling a class, they’re doing so driven in large part by the belief that if they bring smart, engaged, diverse groups of students with different interests, perspectives, and backgrounds together, they’ll learn from each other. That’s a lot like what we’re trying to do with assembling our teams at Collegewise.

If you want to unlock the genius within your group, I’d do three things right away:

  1. Recognize that the more people you have thinking about how to make your organization even better, the better your organization will be.
  2.  Ask the new people what they see, what they notice, and what they think. Fresh eyes can be the antidote for stale environments.
  3. Regularly put smart people in a room, and don’t tell them what to talk about.

You might be surprised by how much you–and they–learn.