Wednesday, April 05, 2023

Intelligence is Overrated


Tyler Cowen says don’t hire the smartest candidate.

Independently I arrived at a similar conclusion over the years: people tend to overvalue intelligence and devalue other important qualities like leadership, teamwork, charisma, gratitude, dedication, resilience, and discipline.

I’ve seen the importance of those other qualities play out many times, over and over again, in my own life and in the world around me. You probably have too, if you look hard enough. 

To pick one example, resilience — the fortitude to never give up no matter how many challenges you encounter — is almost always a far better predictor of living a successful life than intelligence. The reason why is right there in the definition: “never give up”. 

Discipline — doing difficult things especially when you dislike doing them — is another important quality. Few people achieve anything important without it. Do not confuse it with motivation, a word often used in the wrong context when discipline is what is really in question.

Leadership is similar: making decisions with insufficient and imperfect information is a very important life skill for yourself and your career along with your family. You will see this all around you if you look hard enough: decisions delayed because you thought you needed more and better information might be useless because they are too late. With decisions, decisiveness is far more important than waiting for “perfect” information that is usually not even possible. The timimg is the important part, not getting everything exactly right on the first try. Evaluate and readjust as needed, and move on. Think like a CEO, not like a scientist. Learn to be comfortable making decisions with only 85% of the information you would like to have.

None of these things have anything to do with intelligence, and in fact intelligence can often get in the way by making people overconfident that they can just “think their way out of things”. That’s not how life works, as my own life showed me several times.

These lessons would have come in handy decades ago. But with lived experience comes wisdom, I guess.