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Jeff Bezos on what identifies smart people


Such an amazing article worth the read for sure. What makes you smart? It's how agile you are in changing your beliefs and updating your point of view.

How often are you wrong? Okay, now how often do you actually admit it to yourself and seek a better truth? This is the backbone of science- it's ever changing. We never assume something is a proven fact. We just allow things to be believed until they can be disproven.

So why don't more of us think this way? Why do we allow our egos to constrain our beliefs of the world even when we've been given better evidence to disprove many of our beliefs?

Just a thought for the night.

11 Replies

I might suggest that this speaks more to emotional intelligence (which can be learned) than other types of intelligence. I suspect that one major contributing factor is our innate need to make sense of the world. The complexity of our world is and has been evolving exponentially faster than our natural, biological evolutionary ability to keep up so it would make sense to me that people will increasingly resign themselves to intractable beliefs to avoid an ever-present uncertainty about the world..

I'd love to see Jeff Bezos introspect more about what it means to be an ethical and moral person as it pertains to his horrible treatment of employees. To me, that would make him smart.

I'm with you on all counts.

I'm also exhausted of very rich people treated as experts on things they are unqualified to offer commentary and advice on. Celebrity and wealth should not supplant knowledge and experience.

cjnolet in reply to Cupressaceae

I’m sorry you feel this way.

I believe we can learn a ton from people who have put in the blood, sweat, and tears to accomplish absolutely great things. There’s no luck here- these individuals repeat success time and time again. If he were to go broke tomorrow I’m absolutely confident he’d repeat the success again (such as Ray Dalio).

We can choose to believe what we want to believe and your opinions are allowed to be different than mine, though we certainly should strive to appreciate the views of others.

Cupressaceae in reply to cjnolet

I think you missed the part where I do appreciate blood sweat and tears. That's the experience and knowledge and expertise. But a person's expertise is bounded, and just because a person is rich or famous doesn't make them an expert on intelligence.

It's very condescending for you to feel sorry for me, but like you, I know that people have varying opinions and I don't expect everyone to agree with me.

cjnolet in reply to Cupressaceae

I’m sorry that you feel my response was indicating that I was feeling sorry for you. I’m not so sure my words indicated such things, and that’s certainly not how they were intended to be perceived.

To be quite honest, what you did or didn’t mean doesn’t reallly matter to me.

But I will say it was strange seeing an individual who has created a successful multi-billion dollar company, led many tens of thousands of employees, continued to provide a level of service and a product thats effectiveness continues to be unsurpassed by other retailers (both online and off) thus far, referred as unqualified to give his opinion on traits of smart and successful people. Instead he appears to be getting compared to “just another rich and famous” person. Perhaps, like my apology at the beginning of my last reply, this is not how you intended it. It is, however, how I received it.

Either way. I made a post that I found inspirational. My own intention was not to generate arguments or banter. Those are reasons I have not had a Facebook account in years.

cjnolet in reply to applejack123

I do agree with you on the emotional intelligence piece and while our cortex is definitely associated with intellect, reasoning, and higher ability to problem solve, I definitely believe intelligence and adaptability are coupled, as you point out.

Our opinions of influential and successful entrepreneurs don’t agree, however. They don’t have to agree. That’s what makes us all so great. Free market and capitalism are wonderful constructs meant to give workers choices. Yet another set of process that pushes adaptability.


One of the dumbest things smart people do is remain wedded to our personal concept of what constitutes reality. The ability to adapt this model objectively based on sensory input data and not forcing this data to fit our personal model of reality like bashing a square peg in a round hole. It is human nature to do so because it less painful or awkward in the short term to challenge our belief systems as we are fundamentally psychologically dependent on it. This is why there are smart people in the world who receive the same or similar information but believe completely opposite things. The truly smart can adapt the flawed belief systems we all have as none of us know the whole truth about the nature of reality, be it history, politics, philosophy, personal relationships etc. It may not be the easiest route in the short term but l believe this leads to greater future happiness.

cjnolet in reply to Rickytshirt

I do agree with this.

When we are children, our parents mean well, but most times end up instilling us with some subset of bullshit rules that stick around all the way into adulthood. Though these rules may or may not be important to our survival as children (such as the importance of listening to our parents so that we stay out of danger, for instance), I believe those bullshit rules don’t often get re-evaluated by many individuals once they become adults. We mindlessly pass some of them down to our kids without even understanding why they were ever important to our parents (or their parents, even).

The effect of this, I believe, is that those individuals end up with very rigid and outdated beliefs about the world and it’s a shame because i feel it really limits their potential. The only difference between the mind of a capitalist and a cog is that the cog chose to believe that’s all they are capable of. I don’t think big dreamers are as distant from reality as those who subscribe to an outdated one.

But this is the beauty of life. We all get to believe what we like. Who am I to judge?

Our perceptions are all based on our beliefs.

I think we all have a need to make sense of the world to some degree. Having secure, unwavering, wholehearted beliefs sounds comforting. I imagine it would contribute to feeling safe, sure about yourself, your actions, your purpose, your choices. In a way, being able to hold a stable world view or understanding of things sounds like a relief. Maybe even the recipe to a fulfilling and content life?

On the other hand, reorganising, challenging, reflecting on, exploring, replacing, developing, moulding and building on our own beliefs, understandings, opinions, awareness and knowledge etc is confronting, exhausting, and even alienating. The more you know, the more you know you don’t know. Re-evaluating, unpacking and even identifying our own subconscious rules and biases etc etc is bloody hard work. It’s never ending. It’s rich and fascinating and exciting and meaningful. It’s probably pretty unavoidable for ADHD minds? But it’s also a lot of effort, can be pretty damn consuming and confusing.

In our society, we seem to value ‘intelligence’ and being ‘smart’ above many other human qualities. But there’s something to be said for simplicity.

There’s surely a happy medium, but I get called out on overanalysing everything to the point of being a pain in the arse. Why does everything have to be grey and fluid to me? Why can’t I accept a simple answer, why can’t i accept surface level, face value, because someone said so. It’s a burden sometimes- as well as a blessing. Why do I have to accept multiple perspectives and truths dammit. Why always the (self) debating, changing my mind, reconsidering and sometimes makes me feel fickle. Wishy washy.

It would be nice to have some unwavering conviction that when I die I will go to heaven, to grow up knowing my path in life is to take over the family business, or be a mother, to ‘know’ right and wrong, have black and white answers and not have to search and ponder and discover a deeper meaning etc. to just be content.

What does it feel like to be wrong? Exactly the same as it feels like to be right. How or why you realised you were wrong and how you handled it following is what counts. Asking someone how often they are wrong is an impossible question and it’s doing my head in.

Talking to someone who is not open minded or willing to consider alternative views, explanations etc is frustrating as hell to me. It’s also elitism because education is generally the reason people do or don’t think in that way.

It’s 4.30 am where I am, can’t sleep am pondering love, if it exists, if it’s worthwhile, or imaginary or whether I believe or value (romantic) love and is it okay not to? Thanks ADHD brain- be a lot more helpful to go to sleep.

Now on top of this I’m trying to think ‘how often am I wrong?’

Also, I think emotional intelligence is more innate than other types?

Lani24 in reply to Lani24

Sorry for the long ramble, but also, sometimes we HAVE to function on auto pilot. I wonder how many beliefs and views I have instilled in me that I’m not even aware of and haven’t even reflected on or considered yet.

Anyone got any great strategies for insomnia haha

cjnolet in reply to Lani24

Yet many of the things we choose to believe are just that- beliefs. Educator can teach, sure, but we choose to hold onto beliefs. If they comfort you even when you are given evidence that they may be wrong, great! No harm done.

But there’s a larger point here. Self confidence and wellness allow agility and flexibility- two traits that come very hard when we are too rigid and fearful to trust that we might actually be wrong. Bayesian statistics are empirical and were designed to work just like our brain does- we know what we know now, until we have evidence to believe that we need to correct what we know. We do it instinctively, though some of us get very stubborn and forget that others also have experience to bring along and that we should have both the confidence as well as the humility to admit that, in the end, we are all just human. Humans are imperfect.

There’s a certain wonder and beauty knowing that your leader, whether a parent, friend, or coworker is willing to forfeit their ego for their continued obtainment of knowledge.

This article isn’t trying to say “you aren’t smart if you aren’t constantly changing every belief you have”. It’s saying that in order to lead and effectively chase your goals and dreams, you need to continue the learning process and not get yourself tied too far to outdated knowledge.

I used to have a boss tell me “If you aren’t making mistakes, you aren’t trying hard enough”. Another boss used to tell “I hope you fail your way to success”

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