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The Smartest People I’ve Ever Met Do These Things

by | Oct 11, 2021 | Life

He dropped wisdom bombs for the last ten minutes.

The meeting attendees were left speechless. For most of the two hours he sat there tentatively listening, taking in all the blubber talk from the beasts, until the homestretch to beer o’clock had almost arrived.

He always had a clever solution to a problem. So, I innocently decided to ask this hidden genius a question.

“Have we got to the root course of the problem?”

“There’s another way to look at it. Rather than force the customer to give us their money, why don’t we turn the tables and make it irresistible for them not to give us their money? We make going to another provider illogical.”

For ten minutes the guy literally redefined the entire model for finance. The inherent risks of sending money between countries disappeared. Not even Wall Street or New York Hedge funds with leather swivel chairs had figured out what this man was saying. I had to stop the drool from coming out of my mouth. My boss had froth forming around the edges of his mouth.

Afterwards, I asked him “how did you do that chief?”

“I’m not that smart, actually. I’d have to be an idiot by now after all these years not to see the basics of how the money game works. There are definitely flaws to my approach but it’s a start point people smarter than me can build from.”

Smart people don’t think they’re smart. If anything, they think they’re stupid because life is complex and nobody can have all the answers. What we know is 1/1-billionth of all the information that exists.

Become smart enough to realize how stupid you are. — Matthew Kobach

The smartest people I’ve ever do these things.

Read a lot of books

Bookworms are cooler than building a startup. They’re badass because they use stories to learn from real people they can emulate in life. It’s so much easier than making all the mistakes yourself.

I’ve found that the smartest people I meet re-read the same books. So many books are trash. Why not read the same book again? The lessons you get will be different every time. Different stages of life help you see new learnings in books you’ve already read.

A book read multiple times helps to commit it to memory. Once you can recite your favorite books you can live by them. Sentences from the best books can become mantras. Quotes from books can become justifications in an argument. A story you read over and over can become inspiration to write your own story.

Place a pile of books in the corner of a room. Invite 30 people in. Watch for the one person who walks over and starts to pick up the books. That’s the smartest person right there. Not your everyday Netflix binger.

They’re humble AF

Big egos are the norm. Anybody can show off. Anybody can brag about the privileges life has gifted them. I like to think of privilege as a one-time gift. If you’ve done well in this life then your next life is going to be hell. That thinking stops me being an a-hole.

The smartest people I’ve met practice humility. The whole show is not about them and their achievements. They don’t name-drop their Hollywood friend’s name. They’re not rolling around in a Rolls Royce looking for attention and a mob of selfie sticks to chase them down.

If anything, they underpromote their achievements. Why? Smart people realize that their achievements are never a solo pursuit. Someone always helps you. There’s a team behind every person.

I say this about writers all the time. People think I have some gift to write. Not really. Behind the scenes there is an army of people who help me do the heavy lifting and make my writing look easy. My name goes on the story. Really, it should be more than 50 names.

Intelligence is about reminding yourself daily that life is a team sport and no one mind creates glory. Collective consciousness is where brilliance is found. If you’re on the internet then you tap into this consciousness by default. Congrats. None of us are that smart then.

Minds joined through internet connections are the real marvel. Learn to assemble the lego blocks of minds online and you can appear smart, too.

Spend time alone

Being alone is a power very few can handle — Aaron Will

Alone time is crucial for intelligence. When you’re alone you get to be with your thoughts. You get to daydream. Deep thinking can occur too. Always needing people by your side is a sign of deep insecurity, not cleverness. Smart people don’t really have entourages by their side to open the door for them and take group selfies with. Nope.

Time alone in silence is where the world starts to make sense. It’s where you simply observe everything you feel with your five senses and wonder “is this all there is?” Instead of operating from the plague of individualism, you start to think of the collective whole.

Alone time helps you understand that humanity only survives when we think collectively, not based on our own needs.

A video I watched alone at home for several days in a row helped me understand how insignificant and significant my life is. The 9-minute film, with 7 Million Views, made by IBM in 1977, starts with a man lying down in a park. Every 10 seconds the camera zooms out 10 times.

Photo by Vincentiu Solomon on Unsplash

The mathematical phenomenon known as the power of tens pretty quickly takes us to space, then to the solar system. As the camera zooms out further our sun becomes nothing more than a tiny star that doesn’t matter much. The zoom continues from one light year away to 10,000 light-years away.

Now you can see the entire milky-way — it starts to look tiny too. At 10 million light-years away our entire galaxy looks like a single star. It’s not a big deal. Entire clusters of galaxies look like smoke in a jam jar. Most of space looks empty from this view. It’s really not that bigger deal. We’re ants choking on greenhouse gases 10 million light-years away.

The camera then zooms all the way back in again. Once it reaches the man in the park it starts to zoom in on his body. You can see the layers of skin, then the blood vessels, then the blood cells, all the way to the ladder that is the double helix of DNA. The final step is to see three hydrogen atoms.

In one sense our lives are so micro in the grand scheme of time and space that they don’t matter. In another sense the powerful human body is an entire milky-way in space itself. Our body houses entire planets and complex systems far more interesting than the solar system.

Being alone is the best time to zoom in and out. Your perspective shifts. Smart people are powerful and insignificant in the same sentence. Our existence can be redefined based on the power of tens.

They’re quiet in meetings

I used to be a loud one in meetings. When I healed my mind from mental illness I found I got quieter.

Over-talking is the result of the ego. The loud beasts in meetings seek to become more significant because they didn’t get it during childhood.

Talking isn’t intelligence. Listening is intelligence. It’s how we learn, and learning builds mental models that make you look like a genius over longer timeframes.

Don’t argue with trolls

You can’t argue with stupid people, they will drag you down to their level and beat you with experience — Mark Twain

It’s fashionable to turn any form of success into a satire post on social media. People think it makes them look smart. Really, it makes them look stupid. Obviously no successful person is perfect. They’re full of flaws.

My friend once shared a quote from a Wall Street Tycoon. Their boss at work said “they’re a liar and a cheat, don’t share that!” That was true. “You can learn a lot about what *not* to do from liars and cheats,” my friend said.

Take what you like from idols and successful people. Ditch what doesn’t help you. Unintelligent people see someone who isn’t perfect and rip apart their flaws. Stupid. Smart people see useful takeaways they can borrow from anybody.

Hold opinions loosely

Look at who you were 5 years ago. If you’re anything like me, you’ll cringe. I was a 4 am, cold shower, self-help junkie. Yuck. We change over time though. Our opinions from a year ago will likely evolve.

That’s why smart people don’t become obsessed with an opinion. An opinion is a short-term observation you have about the world. The key is to think deeply — not to form rock-solid opinions you build moats around and refuse to ever change, so you win some silly war in your head.

Opinions evolve, and with them, so does your intelligence.

They hate being the smartest person in the room

If you’re the smartest person in the room, then you’re in the wrong room
— Professor Feynman

The desire to look smart is different from being smart. Fake smart people want to have the most knowledge in a room so they can look good. Truly smart people have a desire to learn, so they do their best to get into rooms where they’re the least intelligent person.

I once heard a story about a Google employee. He used to attend meetings with the Google founders when he had nothing of value to add. When people asked him why he was in the room he’d say, “I’m here to take detailed notes for us to work off after the meeting.” Nobody questioned him after that.

This ordinary guy went on to learn from some of the smartest people on the planet by starting out as a glorified note-taker. That’s genius. Now he’s a big success as an entrepreneur. If you spend time with the Google founders for long enough you’re bound to learn about technology. Makes sense.

Choose to be the dumbest person in the room. That’s how you experience rapid growth in life and produce disproportionally larger results, that makes you appear smart looking back.

Final Thought

Smart people aren’t that smart. They primarily choose to learn over their ego’s desire to look good. Life isn’t an intelligence contest. It’s a game of who wants to become a knowledge billionaire.

When faced with the decision to look smart or learn, choose to learn. That’s what the smartest people I’ve ever met taught me.

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