The 10 Stupidest Things Smart People Do


Intelligence manifests itself in many different ways: financial success, fancy degrees from Ivy League schools, and the ability to solve problems may all indicate "smart."

Perhaps most interestingly, though, intelligence can be indicated by doing some very dumb things. Specifically, the dumb things on this list. (See also: Good and Bad Habits of Smart People)

1. They Confuse Education With Intelligence

A string of letters behind your name means you're very good at school, but says nothing about how good you are at life. Just because you're an MBA doesn't mean you're a good leader. Just like a PhD doesn't mean you can teach. Some lessons can only be learned outside the classroom. And some of the most successful people in this world lack a formal education. But because so many intelligent people see their education through to a high level, they're more prone than anyone to forget this.

2. They Do What's Expected of Them

Society just assumes smart kids will join Doctor-Lawyer-Wall Street crowd and many are happy to oblige. Ignoring your passion to follow the pack is a recipe for disaster, however. Those who do this often join the midlife crisis crowd further on down the line. "Many smart people often seem to be followers, probably because they grow up spending so much time pleasing others via academic and extracurricular achievement that they never figure out what they really like to work on or try anything unique," writes entrepreneur Lee Semel.

3. They Skirt the Rules

We often applaud smart people for thinking outside the box, but sometimes, they just toss the entire box out the window. CEOs have public affairs, celebrities drive drunk, and Martha Stewart dabbles in insider trading, and they all seem slightly surprised when consequences come calling. "Most innovation involves breaking or bending rules. Not rule breaking that is unethical or dishonest rule breaking but rule breaking that is necessary to getting ideas designed, built, and out of the door," writes behavioral scientist and author Max Mckeown. The trouble occurs when smart people forget which is which.

4. They Hang Out With the Wrong People

It's often said that you become like the people with whom you spend the bulk of your time. Most of us choose friends because they're fun or interesting, but that doesn't necessarily mean they're a good influence. When you're especially smart, lots of people may want to hang out with you, but that doesn't mean they're true friends. Just like us, smart people can be attracted to rebels, users, and negative Nancys who sabotage success.

5. They Talk Without Listening

Smart people have a lot of ideas, and they want to share them. The problem is, sometimes they do so much sharing they forget to shut-up long enough to hear the response. Even worse are smart people who assume that because they're smart, their ideas are the only ones worth listening to.

But "employing silence is a way of training ourselves to be pro-social (which is psychology-speak for a little less selfish and which gets you ahead in your working life)," notes Drake Baer for Fast Company. Listening — really listening, not just waiting to talk — allows you to experience the world from another person's point of view, an ability that's a great asset in life. (See also: 12 Things People With Good Communication Skills Never Do)

6. They Neglect People

When smart people really geek out on a project or idea, they have a tendency to become hermits. In our start-up culture, we hold the "all nighter" up as a standard of dedication, when in fact, it indicates a lack of boundaries and control. They're so focused on the end goal, smart people often fail to stop and smell the roses.

Although intentions may be good, they often neglect their friends, family, and even themselves. Truly smart people know there must be balance: "There have been very few people in the world who have been successful without the support of a strong and close family. Having those strong relationships continue to remind you what is really important," Joe Van Deuren writes for Balanced Life Skills.

7. They're Overconfident

A lifetime at the top of the class can make smart people feel like they can do no wrong. Confidence is good… until it becomes arrogance. Overconfidence can often cause smart people to rush into things before they're ready, and blind them to warning signs that trouble is ahead. (See also: Change Your Life by Learning How to Admit You're Wrong)

8. They're Not Confident Enough

It may surprise you, but smart people often suffer from something called impostor syndrome, "a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist even in face of information that indicates that the opposite is true." Despite degrees, and good jobs, and successful companies, many smart people feel like it's all a fluke and they'll someday be exposed for the impostor that they are.

9. They Stop Learning

Knowing a lot isn't knowing everything. And even if you know everything about a particular topic, there are a million more you know nothing about. Becoming complacent is the stupidest thing any smart person can do. "These smart people fail to further develop their natural talents and eventually fall behind others who, while less initially talented, weren't as invested in being smart and instead spent more time practicing," Semel says.

10. They Think Instead of Do

Thinking is good. Debating is good. Imagining and then dissecting all the impossible scenarios and meta scenarios of a topic is good. But intellectual people can often get caught in this cycle of discussion about ideas, and fail to actually put the ideas into action. "Few ideas are in themselves practical." said John Arnold, a Stanford engineering professor. "It is for want of imagination in applying them that they fail. The creative process does not end with an idea — it only starts with an idea."

What other dumb things do smart people do? Please share in comments!

Like this article? Pin it!

Disclaimer: The links and mentions on this site may be affiliate links. But they do not affect the actual opinions and recommendations of the authors.

Wise Bread is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to


/** Fix admin settings safe to ignore showing on unauthenticated user **/