Why Intelligent people fail

June 28, 2010


Content from Sternberg, R. (1994). In search of the human mind. New York: Harcourt Brace.

1. Lack of motivation. A talent is irrelevant if a person is not motivated to use it. Motivation may be external (for example, social approval) or internal (satisfaction from a job well-done, for instance). External sources tend to be transient, while internal sources tend to produce more consistent performance.

2. Lack of impulse control. Habitual impulsiveness gets in the way of optimal performance. Some people do not bring their full intellectual resources to bear on a problem but go with the first solution that pops into their heads.

3. Lack of perseverance and perseveration. Some people give up too easily, while others are unable to stop even when the quest will clearly be fruitless.

4. Using the wrong abilities. People may not be using the right abilities for the tasks in which they are engaged.

5. Inability to translate thought into action. Some people seem buried in thought. They have good ideas but rarely seem able to do anything about them.

6. Lack of product orientation. Some people seem more concerned about the process than the result of activity.

7. Inability to complete tasks. For some people nothing ever draws to a close. Perhaps it’s fear of what they would do next or fear of becoming hopelessly enmeshed in detail.

8. Failure to initiate. Still others are unwilling or unable to initiate a project. It may be indecision or fear of commitment.

9. Fear of failure. People may not reach peak performance because they avoid the really important challenges in life.

10. Procrastination. Some people are unable to act without pressure. They may also look for little things to do in order to put off the big ones.

11. Misattribution of blame. Some people always blame themselves for even the slightest mishap. Some always blame others.

12. Excessive self-pity. Some people spend more time feeling sorry for themselves than expending the effort necessary to overcome the problem.

13. Excessive dependency. Some people expect others to do for them what they ought to be doing themselves.

14. Wallowing in personal difficulties. Some people let their personal difficulties interfere grossly with their work. During the course of life, one can expect some real joys and some real sorrows. Maintaining a proper perspective is often difficult.

15. Distractibility and lack of concentration. Even some very intelligent people have very short attention spans.

16. Spreading oneself too think or too thick. Undertaking too many activities may result in none being completed on time. Undertaking too few can also result in missed opportunities and reduced levels of accomplishment.

17. Inability to delay gratification. Some people reward themselves and are rewarded by others for finishing small tasks, while avoiding bigger tasks that would earn them larger rewards.

18. Inability to see the forest for the trees. Some people become obsessed with details and are either unwilling or unable to see or deal with the larger picture in the projects they undertake.

19. Lack of balance between critical, analytical thinking and creative, synthetic thinking. It is important for people to learn what kind of thinking is expected of them in each situation.

20. Too little or too much self-confidence. Lack of self-confidence can gnaw away at a person’s ability to get things done and become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Conversely, individuals with too much self-confidence may not know when to admit they are wrong or in need of self-improvement.


2 Responses to “Why Intelligent people fail”

  1. Thessalie Says:

    Alright… This can apply to everyone, intelligent or not, occasionally or persistently. And so what do we do about it ?:)

    I think Luck, and Access to timely information are two other factors that can not be ignored.

    Example 1 (Luck): a girlfriend happened to seat in an HR department 12 years ago, she’s not really a world checker. 3 mergers later she’s still there, minding her own business, 7hours a day with an hour lunch/shopping break, sitting almost accidentally in what is now a global player in this industry (banking), and she’s being chased by a competitor offering something well in the 6-figures salary (+ bonus)…
    Icing on the cake: In case she would like to have babies this is not a problem, they say…

    Example 2 (information): this english chap was raised in Paris and forced to learn Chinese as a kid, sent in all the right schools and taught were to begin his career. He’s now 30 and part of the M&A / Commodities team in one of the sexiest Investment bank in the world. What can you do about it when you’re just having fun with your mates discovering life as it passes by, or beginning your career in the wrong place ? He’s not any smarter than you trust me.

    Finally, I believe the key talent you need in the kind of over-dimensioned organisations we now have to blend in is POLITICS. It is not about being smart at what you are doing, or nice or considerate to others, or project or client-minded, even less about being creative. It is about wasting the company’s time and money promoting your own self as most managers do. Key skills are OPPORTUNISM, and PATIENCE.

    Example 3 (Opportunism): This girl has been sitting almost 10 years in a 20-people department in a >5000people organisation. Although smart enough, she was doing a poor job as an analyst, not really taken seriously, not even talking to other employees from other departments (unless they present a real direct interest). She did not “waste” in learning, passing exams the company was always happy to finance (which most of us found a fantastic opportunity, and did !). She finally had her lucky punch, the talented managers left and one of the people she had bet on (…) became head of research. Within a year she enjoyed 4 promotions in a row, ending up Head of Research herself after he left (all arranged by him). She is less than half experienced and graduated as the analysts she’s now in charge of, and because she is well aware of it, as most people feeling unsecured she is very hard and nasty to her subordinates. As far as I know she’s still in charge and my feeling is that she will continue to climb up the ladder while making nice & dedicated employees’ life a misery.

    How’s that ?:)
    No need for a master thesis in psychology really…. but had I made these observations before I began my career it would have certainly helped !

    • Vipul Patel Says:

      That’s a great point. But like every other science, it just helps you understand guiding principles. It’s not an all in all guide, but things if were aware about will reduce your chances. No one can stop the inevitable 🙂

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