How smart is smart?

One of the best quotes I’ve ever heard: “Stupid people do stupid things, smart people outsmart each other”.

I guess the message here is that a lot of ‘smart’ people spend most of their time trying to impress their own peer group (that being other smart people), rather than actually doing something of value.

I’m constantly hearing the smartest people saying about an idea or technology “That’s already been done”; missing the point that /how/ it’s done or /who/ it’s targeted at that would turn it into a billion-dollar business or product.

If these smart people focused on the 98% of non-gifted/non-genius individuals out there, they’d find it a lot easier to impress, deliver value and ultimately be financially successful than by trying to impress people who already know everything.

It is a fact that there is too much focus in today’s age on thinking to the detriment of doing.

Smart people love to think. It comes naturally to them, and they’re good at it. But thinking only takes you so far, especially when you’re trying to make an impact on the world. At some point, you have to do.

Because thinking comes so easily to smart people, doing becomes relatively* harder. Research and planning are great in moderation but can offer the dangerous illusion of progress. In the end, the only way to make a difference is to do something. Start now.

And for God’s sake:

1. Stop following the pack – Many smart people often seem to be followers, probably because they grow up spending so much time pleasing others via academic and extracurricular achievement that they never figure out what they really like to work on or try anything unique. Smart people from top schools tend to flock into the same few elite fields, as they try to keep on achieving what other people think they should achieve, rather than figuring out whatever it is they intrinsically want to do. How stupid can that be?

2. Start developing social skills – Some smart people focus exclusively on their narrow area of interest and never realize that everything important in life is accomplished through other people. They never try to improve their social skills, learn to network, or self-promotes, and often denigrate people who excel in these areas. If you are already a good engineer you are going to get 10x the return on time spent improving how you relate to other people compared to learning the next cool tool.

3. Lose the bad habit of engaging in zero-sum competitions with other smart people – Many smart people tend to flock to fields which are already saturated with other smart people. Only a limited number of people can become a top investment banker, law partner, Fortune 500 CEO or humanities professor. Yet smart people let themselves be funneled into these fields and relentlessly compete with each other for limited slots. They all but ignore other areas where they could be successful, and that is less overrun by super-smart people. Instead of thinking outside the box, smart people often think well within a box, a very competitive box that has been set up by other people and institutions to further someone else’s interests at the expense of the smart person.

Then maybe I can start calling you “real smart”.

Share your thoughts.


Written by

Ziad K. Abdelnour, Wall Street financier, trader and author is President & CEO of Blackhawk Partners, Inc., a private family office that backs accomplished operating executives in growing their businesses both organically and through acquisitions and trades physical commodities – mostly oil derivatives – throughout the world.