I was asked a really good interview question a few weeks ago that I wanted to think my way through here. The question was:
What is your personal brilliance?
How would you answer that? Well, here’s what I said.
My answer at the time, and I think my answer still, is that I help people make decisions. When I say that out loud it feels a bit odd. I mean, thoughts like this run through your head:
- Helping people make make decisions…what’s that? I mean it’s not even making decisions, it’s helping others make decisions.
- Brilliance is a strong word. Am I really brilliant at it? Am I brilliant at anything?
- Is that some inherent skill or am I just a sounding board? A good listener? Couldn’t a rubber duck do as well?
But that’s just lizard brain talking. We’re socially trained to be humble. Our brain tells us that it’s not polite to brag. But if you stop and look at it objectively, these arguments don’t hold sway.
Helping someone do anything has value. And decisions are hard. If I can help just one person make a decision that they were struggling with, I think I’ve provided value. The skill of helping people to understand not only the current situation but the future that will result from a decision they need to make takes a great degree of skill. It takes many journeys up and down the ladder of abstraction, it takes a deep understanding of the technical details of the decision, and more so, the emotional ones. Sure listening is an important skill, but when one wants to effect change, it’s really just table stakes. Hearing the said and the unsaid and weaving it all into a coherent narrative that allows people to really understand the impact of their decision, and equally, of not making a decision: that’s a different skill.
And to the point of the question, am I brilliant? I don’t think brilliance is an end state. Do I strive for brilliance? Absolutely. Do I achieve brilliance? Often. Am I always brilliant? No. But that’s a good thing. If I have nowhere to grow and nothing to learn, I stagnate, and then I’m certainly not going to be brilliant.
So while it was an off the cuff answer, in retrospect I think it was a good one. What is your personal brilliance?