Why It’s Better to be Nice than Smart

By Ehtan S. Auston - Last Updated July 7, 2020
The following originally appeared as a guest blog post I wrote for NBC’s INC WELL.  It is free from my usual spelling and grammatical error, as it was graciously edited by the Charles Dickens of business blogs, the one-and-only, Mr. David Wolinsky.

Smart is overrated. Maybe I’m biased because I’m bit of a dummy, but I’ve always felt that having a big heart will get you further in life than having a big brain.

Sure, a high IQ is important if you’re planning a career in astrophysics or working in a secret government lab, building a killer, burrito-eating, ninja-shark robot. (Side note: Dear government, and I know you’re reading this, if this job exists, please let me where I can apply.)

But for most other careers, entrepreneurship included, being smart isn’t what’s going to make you good at what you do. Kindness, compassion, authenticity, humor and generosity — these are the qualities that matter.

Yes, of course you need to have a certain level of intelligence to be successful. But there are diminishing returns on IQ. And after you hit a certain threshold, additional IQ points don’t help you one iota. (Hat tip to Malcolm Gladwell).

Because, well, no one gives a shit if you got your MBA from Harvard or you got a perfect score on your SAT. Ultimately, the people you work with only want to know two things: Can I rely on this person to do what she says she’s going to do; and would she be a fun person to have a beer with?

In fact, being really smart is often a huge obstacle in the path to success. If you’re Mr. Harvard MBA then your natural inclination is to try to win by outsmarting everyone else. But outsmarting everyone else is an impossible battle to win. No matter how hard you try, you’re never going to be the smartest person in the world. Heck, you’re probably not even the smartest person reading this blog post right now. So, no matter how smart you think you are, there’s someone smarter out there who is going to beat you at your own game.

Smart is a losing proposition.

Once you come to the realization that you can’t out-Amazon Amazon, it’s time to change the rules of the game. Brad Feld recently wrote an excellent blog post on resegmenting your business. He said, if you’re not the market leader or at least in the top three for your category, then it’s time to create a new category and become No. 1 in the new category. The same principle can be applied on the personal level. Are you the smartest person in the world? Are you in the top three? No. Okay, then instead of trying to be the market leader of smart, resegment yourself and become the market leader of nice.

Because, while it’s damn near impossible to make yourself the smartest person in the world, there is absolutely nothing stopping you from becoming the No. 1 absolute nicest person in the world. So give it a shot, and see what happens. If you do, I promise you’ll be amazed at how many more people want to have a beer with you.

Ethan is business graduate, who talks about gadgets, technology and startups. He's an exception track record in content creation and readers engagement and have been previously contributing to HBR, INC, Entrepreneur, and alike.
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