Why smart people usually fail in business

By M.Farouk Radwan, MSc.

Why smart people usually fail in business

One of the first things people talk about in the business world is intelligence. I am pretty sure you have heard so many times that being intelligent can make you more successful in business but in fact this is not always true.

In fact, being smarter than other people can backfire and can result in serious failures in the business world.
Are you wondering how this can happen?

Well let me give you a quick example. Let's suppose that you were smart enough that you realized that some of the popular products make promises that are never met and as a result you realized that you can actually create a new product with more realistic promises.

Now do you think that your more realistic product is going to be more successful?
According to psychology the answer is: it depends.

What if people wanted unrealistic products?
What if people didn't really want the truth?
What if people just wanted pain killers instead of solutions?
What if reality wasn't pleasant to most people?
What if people weren't smart enough to realize that your product is the better one?

The answer to all of those questions is simple. You will fail miserably.

A true story

There is a very famous writer in the field of personal development who is considered successful by all standards. That person tends to sell certain unrealistic concepts in his books yet people love them and the reason is simple.

People prefer someone to lie to them and tell them something good instead of someone telling them the ugly truth. Most people would prefer someone to tell them that they should love themselves and accept their lives no matter how their lives are instead of being told that they need to do some effort to change.

Let's suppose a client came to me feeling bad because of an overweight problem. In such a case there are two schools. I can give my client painkillers by telling him that he should accept himself and that looks are not important or i can tell him to start losing weight right now.

The first soloution appeals to so many people because of few things:

  • 1) It frees them from the responsibility
  • 2) It asks them to do nothing
  • 3) It promises instant happiness

The second soloution won't appeal to so many people because humans are lazy by nature.
Now back to our main point. A smart person will very likely realize that soloution two is the one every person should stick to but because most of the people just want someone to lie to them the advice might not become that popular. (see also Why popularity can't be used to measure success)

So what's the soloution to this problem?

There is another level of intelligence that you should teach yourself to have which is knowing that you are not like other people, if you believed you were smart, and then acting accordingly.

When i created optimistnet, a social network for positive posts, it appealed a lot to me and to my intellectual friends but we later discovered that people wanted a distraction instead of a tool that asks them to be positive.

By asking someone to be positive you are asking him to admit that he has problems, to decide to be brave to face them and then to be positive to be able to make it through. Most people don't want this and they just prefer to play a game such as Candy crush to forget about their worries instead of being positive to battle them. (see Why has optimistnet failed)

I am not saying by any means that creating a product for smart people won't always work but all i am saying is that sometimes thinking with your own smart mind can result in a serious failure if people are too different than you are.

So what's the soloution?
Create products for people not for yourself or smart friends.

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