This headline might be a bit harsh, but we’ve all looked at some people that are smashing it in business and wondered how they do it. You know you’re smarter, more educated, more sophisticated about business – so how do they succeed while you’re still struggling? How is it possible that “dumb people” can do so well in business?
The answer, I’ve come to believe, lies in the fact that business success has very little to do with intelligence. In fact, intelligence can actually hold you back and ignorance can sometimes help. (I know this sounds crazy but there’s logic in this reasoning!)
“The fundamental cause of trouble in this world is that stupid people are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.”
Bertrand Russell (philosopher, logician and writer)
Why Confidence Matters
In business, confidence is the key that gets things moving. Confidence is needed in business because;
- When you start out, you’ll have zero customers and yet, you have to have the confidence to push on as if you’re already successful.
- There are always a million things you know are wrong with your product and the way you’re operating, but yet you need the confidence to project a polished sales message to your customers.
- Your customers will always have many other choices, but you have to have the confidence to convince them that choosing your business is the best choice.
- You need confidence to convince the best staff to work with you and if necessary, investors to back you.
Confidence sells – and sales is probably the biggest determinant of business success. Which is why there’s a Big Lie Entrepreneurs (have to) Tell. Being confident in your product, your business, and your approach so that you can hustle and get things done, is the quality you most need to have.
So what does confidence have to do with intelligence (or stupidity)?
The Relationship between Confidence and Intelligence
You might think that smarter people should have more confidence. After all, with more knowledge and skills they deserve to be more confident, right? But it seems that’s not how it goes in practice.
The Dunning-Kruger effect refers to a study by Justin Kruger and David Dunning study where they assessed a group of people’s actual abilities in a range of topics, and then asked them to self-assess.
It may not come as a surprise to you that the people that scored the worst in their tests (bottom 12%), routinely over-estimated their abilities (placing themselves in the top third). In essence, they lacked the awareness, knowledge and ability to properly judge their own performance (or that of others). This study also found that the top performers consistently under-estimated their own abilities.
So yes, this means there is actually an inverse relationship between Confidence and Intelligence. Less intelligent people are likely to over-estimate their abilities and more intelligent people are likely to under-estimate their abilities.
Another interesting framework is the “Boxes of Knowing” as shown below.
There is a good article explaining some nuances of the Boxes of Knowledge framework here. But, the real insight is that as you extent of “What you know” expands, the other boxes grow exponentially larger. So in essence…
“The more you know, the more you know you don’t know.” Aristotle
Knowing there’s a lot you don’t know about a particular subject or sphere, doesn’t tend to make you too confident.
On the other hand, if you have a small box of knowledge (What you Know), there’s only a slightly larger box surrounding it (What you know you don’t know). So you can plough ahead feeling like you have a good understanding of the situation.
So what can you Do? How can Smart People catch up to “Dumb” People?
If it all comes down to confidence, taking strong action while knowing that you’re possibly (or probably) not doing the “right thing” is key.
The key is to quit over-thinking things and take action;
- Choose a strategy and do it. Stop questioning it. Stop second-guessing what that customer’s reaction meant, or what your competition might do. Just barrel ahead, put your product in front of people and sell.
- Stop worrying that you don’t have a detailed business plan, formalised HR systems, a refined sales funnel, brand guidelines, or all of those other things that the books and interwebs tell you are necessary. You can fix some of them later (focus on the bottleneck), but in the meantime, focus on doing what it takes to get the next sale or move to the next level.
- Write a sales pitch you actually believe in – one that you know will help your customers and that you can stand behind. Give yourself a higher purpose for succeeding in business. Speak to your customers and get some testimonials (instructions here) to remind you of your purpose.
- Use a One-Page Actionable Business Plan (template here) to keep you focussed.
- Stop reading and learning about things you’re not going to implement now. Sure, it might be great to do webinars in the future and there’s a lot to learn – but wait until that is your next priority before burying yourself in information. It’s called “Just-In-Time-Learning”.
Stop bemoaning the fact that people with less intelligence than you are achieving great things. Realise that it comes down to more than intelligence. Don’t let intelligence (and perhaps an associated lack of confidence) prevent you from taking action.
Of course I’m not really saying that being intelligent or learning more about things is a bad thing. But don’t let that knowledge stop you from getting things done. Remember that business is all about taking action – so get doing!