Immature vs. Mature Smart People

Paul Thiebaut III
Jun 5 · 4 min read

You consider yourself a smart person, but this is to your detriment in many cases.

One of the hallmarks of a mature smart person is utilizing other people’s experiences and learning in order to more quickly and with less effort arrive at optimal ways of thinking and doing things.

One of the hallmarks of an immature smart person is thinking you can just figure it out, because, after all, isn’t that why you’re smart? Looking to others for guidance and solutions is what less smart people do!

The Smartness Extraction Principle

If you want to get smarter, you need to perceive people with different experiences, learning, skills, and knowledge as sources of “smartness extraction”. This means you need to be inquisitive, curious, open, and pesky about finding out how they do things and how they think. This will speed up the process of accumulating ideas for how to do things, how to think, and why.

Ultimately, how people think and what they do underlie failure and achievement.

Just consider all the people alive today who complain about and resist using digital technologies (e.g. internet, apps, digital solutions, smart phones, social media, etc.). They are, in essence, refusing to learn from people with experiences, types of learning, skills, and knowledge they don’t possess.

This puts these people at a disadvantage because how do they actually “know” or “understand” that digital technology is bad, a waste of time, useless, or whatever if they won’t extract that information for themselves? In effect, they’re isolating themselves in an idea cave instead of being able to learn about and make improvements to something they disagree with.

To become smarter, you should extract ideas where you can at the lowest cost and with the least effort. That means, firstly, transforming your mindset from generating answers and solutions into generating questions and possibilities, and, secondly, directing those questions and “what ifs…” toward people with different experiences, learning, skills, and knowledge so that they give you the product of their labor without you having to do the heavy lifting.

Parenthetically, the smartness extraction principle is why college will be revolutionized from state and private universities like SJSU and Columbia into virtual classroom models, like Minerva. Brick and mortar colleges make it costly and effortful to obtain skills and knowledge that could just as easily be acquired in simpler and faster ways. The transition will become irresistible when the student realizes they can earn a legitimate BA or BS in two instead of four years, and society realizes it can speed up and lower the cost of educating its people.

As you extract smartness, you can use your smartness in a more sophisticated way. Instead of using your smartness to figure things out on your own, you will be able to analyze and synthesize ideas in order to arrive at new, and maybe even better ways of doing things and thinking. You can start to become part of a mindtrust, which requires multiple minds collaborating and interacting in order to speed up how smart each individual mind is.

Human progress is based on the principle of smartness extraction

No single person, no genius, no smart person has ever done anything significant without extracting the smartness of others (the smartness extraction principle is what likely led to the invention of writing and reading).

No matter how quickly people learn (IQ) they face the same brain constraint as all other humans, which is that all brains are born without ideas, knowledge, experiences, and skills. All brains must learn. Or, as Yuval Noah Harari would say, we all have “stone age brains”.

Because all brains must acquire information in order to have a chance of becoming successful, it makes sense to extract high-value and useful information from other brains that have accumulated it over years and decades (this is why reading is elemental). And, that’s where at least one growth opportunity awaits you. I think you often perceive others as competitors instead of collaborators.

A competitive mindset is the hallmark of an immature smart person because it stakes them against other people, causing them to concentrate their attention on outdoing, outsmarting, outthinking, outplaying, outlasting, etc. the competitor. The goal system of the competitor becomes more focused on besting or beating someone than on learning — the prime source of acquiring skills, knowledge, and understanding as well as achieving greatness and success.

I’m not going to try to land this essay because it didn’t start out as one. But, I’ll say that life is long-term and humans are just getting started coming up with great ideas for how to improve the human experience and explore the universe, and that learning to collaborate is probably one of the top ways to speed up and enhance your chances of appreciating and contributing to these exciting times.

You’re a smart person. The question is whether you want to remain smart or extract smartness?


This essay started out as a note to a friend, until I realized I could leak it. :)

Paul Thiebaut III

Written by

Creator of Thiebaut Method — Toddler & Preschool Teacher — Differentiation, Motivation & Learning Expert—Parent Educator — www.thiebautmethodtutoring.org

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