Marissa Meyer is attributed to the following saying: “If you are the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room”. Over the past 6 months, due to various changes in my workplace and some personal changes of my own – I’ve been reflecting upon this sentence multiple times. I’ve been trying to understand what it truly means, as an engineer, as a CEO, as a human being or in general terms – what does it truly mean…

Regardless if the attribution is correct or not, the sentence can be interpreted in various forms. It all depends on who you are, how you see yourself and how you see others. Or to be more exact, not how you see others – but how you communicate with others. But in order to understand communications, let’s try and get a grasp on how people communicate. In order to do this, I would like to introduce you to a small psychology related term, called DISC.

“DISC is a behavior assessment tool based on the DISC theory of psychologist William Moulton Marston, which centers on four different behavioral traits: dominance, inducement, submission, and compliance. This theory was then developed into a behavioral assessment tool by industrial psychologist Walter Vernon Clarke.” –

Now, without dwelling too much into the psychology analysis, or the “accurateness” of the DISC assessment methodology, judging from my personal experience with DISC assessments, they are fairly accurate – or at least, as accurate as you can get with human behaviour is in play. So, DISC stands for Dominance, Inducement, Submission and Compliance. Some describe it Dominance, Influence, Supportive and Compliant. In general, they all means the same thing exactly. Each of us is a mix of these 4 traits, where the statistics show the following:

Only 5% of society will exhibit a single dominant trait. For example, a person with an extremely high “D”, but all others will be really low – will be a highly passive aggressive person, with very little care towards other people and a very short trigger. Basically, this person will be a decision making machine, but mainly for the sake of making a decision.

80% of society will exhibit two dominant traits. For example, a person with high levels of “I” and “S” will normally be a very good sales person, while a person with high levels of “D” and “S” will natural born leaders. A combination of high “D” and high “C” will result in a highly results driven person, driven much by fact, however capable of making rapid gut based decisions.

15% of society exhibit 3 dominant traits – these are your true motivational leaders. For example, a person with a combination of high “D”,”S” and “I” will be a combination of a sales person, a leader and a mentor. A person with a combination of high “D”, “S” and “C” will be a a mentor, a doer, a facts driven decision maker. A combination of high “I”, “S” and “C” will an ultimate team member, highly influencial, highly supportive and facts driven – these are normally highly valued teachers, highly valued mentors and role models.

So, back to our previous statement: “If you are the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room” – means multiple things to multiple people, depending on their behavioral traits. While one person may interpret it as: “Damn, this room is filled with idiots, I need to leave this place”, another may interpret this as: “Wait, the people in this room appear to be wrong, how can I fix that?”, while the third may say: “These people are just wrong and I’m going to tell them out loud”. The interpretation of the statement is in direct relation to your behavioural traits. For example, a person with a high “D” only will believe his decisions and thoughts are what counts and everything else is pointless. While at the same time, a person with a high “D” and “I” will believe that he’s right and everybody else is wrong, but he needs to educate them and teach them.

These various communication styles and behavioral traits will dictate the dynamics and performance of your team. It is true that every team will have a leader, be it a choosen one or a naturally appointed one – but the performance is directly dependent on each persons’ ability to communicate their thoughts and ideas to the other team members, in a manner that they can relate to and able to assimilate the information accordingly. For example, a person with a high “D” will responed better to the phrase: “I see your point, however, let’s try and examine another point of view or option”, than to the phrase “Dude, you’re so wrong, I can’t even start expressing it!”. While at the time, a person with a high “C” and low “D” will respond better to the phrase: “Go over the facts and give me some options”, than the phrase “Dude, just make a decision already!”.

While understanding the various communication traits people exhibit in close quarters is one thing, it is entirely a different thing to maintain proper communication paths with open source projects. It is fairly amazing at how poorly, sometimes, people within various projects communicate with one another. Not because they don’t want, simply because they don’t see and discuss things in person on a regular basis, which makes their communications based on email, chat, forums and the yearly developers meetup. This drives a situation where developers working alone in remote locations will provide a highly valued product, but only if they communicate with their team members on a regular basis. Of course, I don’t expect open source projects to perform DISC assessments to their team members, that would be just plain bizzare, but people should always try to assess the communication traits of their team members and figure out what works well with whom. We do it naturally, but if you try and thing about deeper, you may discover new things and new methods of promoting ideas, agendas and most importantly – innovation and exelence.

Do we perform DISC assessments as part of hiring process – absolutely. Do we rule out a candidate due to their results in the assessment – absolutely not. The assessment only helps us in understanding who the person is, how they communicate and should we hire them – how do we introduce them to the team and instruct the team leader accordingly, in order to successfully assimilate them to the team. Hiring someone new is hard, you always want to make the best choice. Sometimes, the most qualified person is simply bad for the team – in that case it’s a bad hire. But if you hire someone that fits the communication style inside your team and they are highly qualified for the job – you have a win-win situation.