Academic intelligence is overrated

As someone who boasts academic credentials that impress precisely no one (English bachelor’s), it’s a bit of an eye-roller that I’m dissing them.

On my travels around Europe and Asia, I’ve met quite a bunch of people from all different backgrounds, and made a bunch of observations.

If money is the measuring stick for success then there are stronger correlations between success and types of intelligence other than academic.

That was a bit of a mouthful but what I’m trying to say is that you can make more money if you’re smarter in other ways than just studying hard stuff.

Yes, yes, “muh Jordan Peterson” and “muh Lex Friedman”–two very successful academics. I never once said that academia is a total waste of time, so shut up.

If you’re in a well-paid profession after years of hard studying, good for you, I’m not attacking you, but I’m going to highlight easier methods to higher income for less work.

I’m also not saying “don’t study or work hard” so please shut up if you’re putting those words into my mouth.

There’s a baseline of general academic knowledge, or ‘book smarts’, that other people assume you have and will be mortified if they discover you don’t.

For example, I had a 30-something year old British friend who I one day discovered didn’t know who Anne Frank was.

I was appalled and embarassed that I’d been spending my time with someone born in a first world country, approaching their middle age, and with such little knowledge about the world.

If he’d just said “girl in a cupboard” or something to that effect then I would have shrugged it off, but that is just astonishing ignorance. I cut that guy off after that.

Do you know about the girl in the cupboard? If not, you’ve got more important things to do than reading this.

So there’s a minimum threshold of academic intellitgence that society expects us to reach, however I think that there’s dimishing returns for going much further beyond that.

There’s teenage TikTok millionaires out there. The richest Clickbank affiliate lives in Bali and earns millions a month. There’s people raking in tens of thousands a month selling junk supplements on Amazon. There’s even people making a comfortable living reviewing dog collars on WordPress blogs. Then there’s me who’s doing alright off of my PIG farm.

How much academic intelligence did these people need to get to where they are now? Not much.

Yes, doctors, lawyers, engineers and accountants can make great money too. But they have to work their arses off for it, balding their lives away in offices. OK maybe some developers make great money working from home but they still have to show up on time for Zoom meetings.

These difficult, high-tier academic professions are all respectable but are clearly not the best methods of earning a living. They’re all hard work and I’m lazy.

Knowledge is power and academic knowledge empowers people, but as a businessman I think about opportunity cost a lot.

Instead of spending my study time learning Guassian elimination methods for solving linear algebra problems, could I be learning something better?

Would I be better off stretching other parts of my brain and seeing where that takes me? Like practicing social skills, developing better empathy and perception, or learning to write better posts than this utter drivel?

So if academic intelligence is overrated, what types of intelligence are underrated?

Social intelligence

Low social intelligence
High social intelligence

The most important type of intelligence involves understanding what makes people tick and how to build rapport with them.

We’re incredibly complex social animals, with dense networks of hierarchies and overlapping social circles. We’re also petty, bigoted and tribal creatures too.

If you’re a social failure, it will impact other aspects of your life too, like your mental and physical health and income.

Trust me, I’ve been there.

As someone with ADHD, I battled video game addiction throughout my life until my 30s when I got more interested in making money instead.

Unsurprisingly my social skills had slipped through the shitter into the cesspit.

Other people were just NPCs to me. I thought I was the main character and others were just there to give me what I wanted.

I was stupid back then. I still am now but hopefully in less ways than before.

So it turns out that if you piss everyone off they don’t want to interact with you anymore and you end up as a pariah.

If you, dear reader, are thinking “oh well I guess that’s me too, I’m an introvert so I don’t need others”, you’re wrong.

There’s not even a debate about it, you’re just wrong.

You do need others, they’re essential to your long-term wellbeing.

Social intelligence is a big kettle of fish, so let’s break it down into distinct skills.

Empathy

Without empathy you’ll soon be ostracised.

You know what someone without empathy is?

A psychopath (and they’re more common than you think).

Empathy is the most important skill out of the social intelligence toolbox; if you can’t empathise, or understand others, then you’re committing social suicide.

Empathy builds trust, and trust attracts wealth.

If you don’t take into account how your actions and words may affect others, you’ll just drive people away from you.

And without people, you won’t have a business network or any social proof for further socialising.

It’s a downward spiral that only ends in misery.

So yeah, empathy is the most important skill in the most important knowledge pool.

Reading the room

Reading the room might come under empathy but it deserves its own section.

One recent example of someone not reading the room comes to mind:

I was hanging out with a nerdy guy and a group of chads at bar, and the nerd kept going on and on about how you must always get your Magic cards graded.

Despite the chads looking bored and playing on their phones, he just kept going on and on about it in obsessive detail.

I had to go to the bathroom, it was too cringey for me to handle.

Instead of sperging about Magic cards at a bunch of chads who may not have even heard of the game (it’s for nerds anyway), let alone shown interest in the finance side of it, what could he have done differently?

Well he could have seen they were chads and assumed they wanted to talk about boobs and football.

This same guy did it again to another group of people when he kept sperging about Japanese rhythm games at them, despite them offering no indication of interest in the topic.

Well what could have done differently here? Again, he could have probed his audience with some “getting to know you questions” like “do you play video games?” first before launching into a comprehensive lecture about the resolution of one particular obscure Japanese rhythm game.

Spergs gonna sperg.

Speech

So if you spend your wanking over Chinese cartoons and can’t hold a conversation with a stranger for more than ten seconds, it’s time to wake the fuck up.

For a good portion of my youth, if the topic wasn’t about video games then I could barely string a sentence together.

I just didn’t know what to say to people.

I read a lot as a kid, and played lots of nerdy games like Magic and RPGs, so my vocabulary wide for my age, but when put on the spot I just couldn’t sound normal enough to fit in.

A lot of the times, talking to people is just saying the most predictable, expected thing.

Occasionally it’s about saying something clever or funny, but that’s definitely not all the time.

If you suck at conversation then you’re playing life on hard mode, and the only way out of that hole is practice.

I did it by hosting and attending meetups in Bangkok, and meeting thousands of people from all over the world.

I just grinded it and grinded meetups, then when I started getting better I got invited to parties and that opened up several friend groups I otherwise never would have had.

Now I get invited out all the time but my hangovers say no.

I used to detest talking to strangers, I found most people boring unless they talked about video games.

Now I’m the opposite and view every stranger as a welcome challenge to get them to enjoy talking to me.

Conversation is fun when you’re good, and although it’s hard to master the key two points to remember are:

  • Make the other person feel good
  • Be interested in them and get them to talk about their passions

There’s a lot more to it but if you keep those two objectives in mind then that’s a huge improvement if you’re not doing them already.

Body language

“Go on . . .”

Although body language is the least important of the three skills in the social intelligence umbrella, if you ignore it you’ll come across as aloof and unengaged.

There’s entire books on this topic so I’m not going to go into it in depth here but I’ll share my favourite tip: learn to raise your eyebrows in a friendly manner.

When we bump into our friends we tend to unconciously flash eyebrow raises at each other.

Doing it to strangers and acquintances is a friendly gesture.

I raise my eyebrows instead of saying anything a lot of non-social situations, like for example, in 7-ELEVEN today I raised them when I made eye contact with the staff to see if she could serve me.

I’m no body language expert anyway but I think the trick is to let your body do what feels natural on autopilot and not try to manually stop it.

As long as your body language is natural and confident, others will be comfortable around you.

Humour

People devoid of humour worry me.

Practical intelligence

Low practical intellence
High practical intelligence

Your practical intelligence determines how well you’re able to cope with everyday life.

Without practical intelligence, no amount of academic intelligence will save you from harming yourself through your own stupidity.

Street smarts

If you’ve had a sheltered upbringing and your parents let you out for the first time, others will notice your lack of street smarts when it comes to drinking and casual drug use.

Having low street smarts will doom you to being the laughing stock of the party.

Common sense

Common sense is like a tiny voice inside your head that says, “Don’t stick your hand in the toaster while it’s on.”

It’s the reason why most people enjoy toasted bread without extra crispy fingers.

However, if you lack common sense, you might find yourself wanting to feel the warmth of a toaster hug and learning a shocking lesson in the process.

Critical thinking

A lack of critical thinking ability will lead you like a lamb to the slaughter into all kinds of scams like taxes and religion.

Resource management

Cultural intelligence

Low cultural intelligence
High cultural intelligence

The world’s got a lot of stuff and people in it. It would be a shame if you died without exploring some of it.

Pop culture

Keeping abreast of pop culture makes you approachable and allows you to tap into others’ passions, allowing you to build rapport with people who you otherwise may have little in common with.

It also makes you more fun at parties.

Whooooooosh goes the cultural reference as it passes over the dullard’s thick skull.

Movies and serieseses

Tiger King, Squid Game, or whatever the flavour of the month show is., watch it.

Music

I’m borderline weird/creep.

Liking interesting music makes you interesting.

Don’t be a basic bitch.

History

The world is like, well old now and a lot of people have done a lot of stuff. It doesn’t hurt to know about it, especially if it’s about Anne Frank or you might be embarassed at a party.

Worldliness

The world is old and it’s also big. There’s a lot of countries with different sorts of people doing and eating different stuff.

If you learn about the different stuff that other people like and do abroad, people will think you’re worldly and that makes you cool.

Politic awareness

Someone people kill each other not just because they don’t like the look of them, but because they think wrong.

That was mostly the story of the 20th century and a bit of this one.

Knowing about it is important.

Physical intelligence

Low physical intelligence
High physical intelligence

I put zero points into this when I created my character so I don’t know shit about it but I know it’s important.

Fitness

Exercise good.

Beauty

Plenty of people are carried through life by their beauty.

Health

Don’t have it? Don’t live.

Creative intelligence

I’ll keep this one short. If you don’t create anything and only consume what others have created, you’re a bugman.

Make time for your hobbies and channel your creative output, even if you think it’s shit.

Broad vs deep knowledge

Now that I’ve been sperging about knowledge for past few thousand words I may as well mention the importance of having a balance of broad and deep knowledge.

Having broad knowledge means you know a little about a lot of stuff, making you ideal for a pub quiz team, though your knowledge would be too superficial to have any meaningful impact on your quality of life.

Having deep knowledge means you know a lot about a few things, making you ideal at boring people to death at parties unless you’re lucky enough to bump into someone with similar interests.

We’re not around long enough to have knowledge that’s both deep and broad, but we can try to strike a balance between the two and maybe get deep knowledge on a few topics we’re passionate about.

Key takeaways

  • You don’t need to be extremely book smart to go far in life but a little bit is nice
  • It’s nice to create as well as consume
  • A balance of broad and deep knowledge is nice

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