Intelligence is overrated

And I say that as (I’d like to think) a fairly intelligent person

When people are talking about what they’d like in a partner or a child, one characteristic that’s almost certainly sure to come up is “smart” or “intelligent” or “brilliant,” or whatever way they choose to describe it.

I find that interesting, because it’s actually a fairly recent phenomenon in human history. 

If you read any available records from the ancients — Greek, Roman, biblical, heck even your own ancestors — you might find it interesting that they seemed to highlight a different trait.


And no, they’re not the same thing. They’re not even similar. When we say people are smart our intelligent, what we usually mean is they’re very good at acquiring information and solving problems — and maybe getting certain jokes (although “wit” would be a better word for that). We’re saying that their minds are at least slightly above average. Intelligence is about thinking.

We don’t think of people being wise as much as the ancients, but when they did, they weren’t thinking in terms of getting information or solving problems. When they described a person as wise, that meant for them someone who understood what it meant to live well and who practiced it above the average. They meant that such a person’s life was at least slightly above average. Wisdom, for them, was about living.

To put this in perspective: think for a moment about the people you’ve really most admired. I’m sure you’ve admired the minds of many people, but for those at the top of your list, was their minds the thing you most admired?

Or, from another angle: I’m sure you can think of many intelligent people who have lived in ways even they agreed weren’t great. This isn’t about judging people you disagree with, mind you — it’s deeper than that. That’s is why I’m emphasising the point of the people themselves being dissatisfied with their own lives. 

Because here’s the thing about intelligence: it still needs direction. An evil genius is still a genius, after all. Intelligence without character can be a truly toxic combination in a relationship. Or even a business, as Warren Buffett can tell you:

You’re looking for three things, generally, in a person. Intelligence, energy, and integrity. And if they don’t have the last one, don’t even bother with the first two. I tell them, ‘Everyone here has the intelligence and energy—you wouldn’t be here otherwise. But the integrity is up to you. You weren’t born with it, you can’t learn it in school.

That last point is important: intelligence you can be born with, but integrity? Character? Wisdom? You don’t get that with your genes. You don’t pick it up in school. 

You acquire it by the choices you make. 

Which means it’s equally available to everyone of us. But it also means it’s equally miss-able by anyone. 

That’s what wisdom is about. Choices. Not knowledge. Not skills. Not the quality of your brain or the contents of your mind. Nah.

Wisdom is about the choices you make, and how they shape your life.

And that’s what this newsletter aims to offer.

But what do you think? Would you say this is something you’ve personally paid attention to in your life? Your relationships? Or do you disagree with aspects of it — or even the whole thing, haha!

Email and let me know!

Doc Ayomide