The art of being ‘less stupid’ vs. trying to be ‘very intelligent’.
When you were in high school — there was an unspoken but obvious pyramid.
Physicist Michio Kaku said it beautifully,
“At the top of the pyramid are the beautiful people — the football jocks, the cheerleaders. And at the bottom, you have the nerds. That’s the pyramid that’s given to us by Hollywood. But, you see, they never tell you that as soon as you graduate from high school the pyramid turns upside down.”
That pyramid creates scars — the glamor of looks is substituted by the glamor of brains. The revenge of the nerd is the theme that seems to recur in life after school.
In that rat race of being perceived as ‘very intelligent’, the aura of being less stupid rarely makes headlines.
Iconic investors, Warren Buffet and Charlie Munger are the last men standing who advocated the “less stupid” mantra. Both are 87+ now.
It is prevalent in children stories.
A monkey and a crocodile were thick friends. One day, the crocodile invited him home on the other side of river for a feast. The trusting monkey traveled on his back.
Halfway through, crocodile opened up, “I like you a lot, my friend. But my wife wants to eat your heart and I need to drown you.”
The quick-witted monkey replied, “Oh crocodile, wish you had told me about this earlier, I left my heart in the tree. Let us hurry back to the tree.” When they did, the monkey leapt out to safety.
The moral made the story flood back: “Don’t underestimate yourself. There are bigger fools in this world. Remember to be less stupid.”
Seeking brilliance may be a inwardly generated thrust. Being less stupid is wonderful, self inflicted thrust from the rear.
Both work. One is seductive. Other is a life skill.
Here are some of the forgotten benefits of being less stupid.
1. ‘Less stupid’ is about being better. Being ‘more intelligent’ is about being best. Which correlates better to success?
Honest answer — I do not know for certain. What I have are experiences and examples.
In college, what I noticed was that on relative grading — ‘A’ grade cutoffs depended on the subject. Some subjects it was in the high 60s and some others it was in high 80s. There were some in my class who made it in the high 90s in all subjects. I knew they were geniuses. I was not one of them and I did OK. I simply tried to avoid perennial mistakes my professors cautioned us about.
To be a professional model on a magazine cover — you need a perfectly toned body. To get a lifetime with a spouse of your dream — you need to be more thoughtful than the good-looking person in the next table.
The point, everything in life is relative. What grabs positive headlines is marginally better performance among peak performances. That is one type of ball game — worthy of nightly news.
There is another where you make fewer mistakes than the average person next door. That may not be news worthy. It still sizzles your pride, success and inner happiness.
2. ‘Less stupid’ is about humility — being self aware of your limitations. Being ‘more intelligent’ is about glamor of brains.
For anyone who invested a small amount in Amazon stock in 2014 when everything was going wrong for Amazon — that is a brilliant dinner table conversation in 2021. It is a high stakes play.
Being “less stupid” is often seen as a defensive strategy.
For anyone who works within their ambit of knowledge and has all investments in the boring Vanguard market index — there is no esoteric dinner conversation.
Just more growth dollars in the investment account.
It is some thoughtless act of a smart employee that flouts an unspoken rule that is a career dragger.
IQ can frame your college grade. Being self aware of your emotions can propel your career. And a world of difference opens up.
3. ‘Less stupid’ is about getting dopamine high differently
Sometimes, a spurge at Vegas could be worth it — valuable in terms of memories and highs. The casinos pump up the oxygen levels that you can breathe for free in the most scenic surroundings near home.
Some others can get a high by solving a problem for humanity that no-one ventured to do before.
There are others who make fewer mistakes by being a seeker of what they do not know.
As a young lawyer, Charlie Munger decided that he would invest an hour each day in improving himself. At $20 an hour, he decided he was his most important client.
He read a lot. He read varied subjects. That was his dopamine high.
4. Being less stupid is not hard. It is neither about making no mistakes.
You have to shrug your shoulders, chuckle and not take yourself seriously — when you realize the mistakes.
Within the art of being less stupid, an inadvertent mistake is a choice only the second time.
Case in point. I spelled Stephen Hawking’s name wrong in the last blog.
Wishing the best in being less stupid,