Why Stupid People Succeed

This post is originally by a Stand Up Comic here: 

Have you ever looked at a stupid person who was very successful and thought to yourself, “how in the heck is someone that dumb so successful?” I have. And I think I have an answer.

(To be clear, when I say “stupid” and “dumb” I am not talking about IQ, or education or grades, or SAT scores. I am talking about a simple lack of common sense and rational thinking. By that definition, even people with great grades and high IQs can be stupid.)

There are I think a couple of qualities that many stupid people have that allows them to succeed (and often to succeed more than “smart” people). Today I will be focusing on one: confidence

Over my years as an improv comedian, I have gone to many improv shows. Once, I went to see a show that was taking place in a theater after another scripted play finished. As I stood outside and waited for the patrons of the play to clear out, I got to listen to a woman from the improv group try to convince the theater attendees to stick around for their show.

“Do you like comedy? Then you have to stay for our show.” “Do you really love to laugh? This is the show for you?” “Have you ever laughed so hard your belly hurt? That’s what will happen if you stick around and see our show.” Those are some big promises, and make the show sound awesome. I don’t know if her sales pitch worked on anyone, but she keep pitching. My expectations were high.

You can probably see where this is going…

Yup. This was quite possibly the least funny, worst performed comedy show I have ever seen. I am not exaggerating to make my point. This was just bad. Just. Bad.

After the show (somehow I stuck around for the whole thing) I remember being astonished at the the woman’s sale pitch.

“How could she say those things?? Like comedy? Love to laugh? Your belly will hurt?? What the heck was she smoking??”

My analytical mind could not wrap itself around how a person could speak so highly about a show that sucked so hard.

Sure, it’s improv, so you never know exactly how the show will turn out, but they had to have some sense of the quality level, right? Right???

Now that some years have passed and I can look back on it more objectively, I realize that I am quite jealous of that woman. That’s right: jealous.

Why am I jealous? Because, frankly, I wish I could have that kind of “confidence unbounded by logic.” I can be waaaay too logical in my thinking when it comes to confidence and self-promotion. I know my blog and presentations are great, but I also know that it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. So rather than standing on the rooftops telling everyone how much they’ll love my stuff, I sometimes fall into a much weaker message of, “check it out, you might like it.” I am sure a lot of you fall into the same trap.

In this way, the stupid person may have the advantage. With an inability (or unwillingness) to be open-minded, see the angles, and realize that others may not think the way they do, the stupid person allows their confidence to bloom unfettered by the chains of reason. All of us smart people could learn a thing or two from the stupid.

Sadly, our world is not a meritocracy. The best do not always succeed the most. This is a tough pill to swallow, because it seems so unfair. Especially to us smart folk who were taught growing up that all we had to do was do well in school and we would be fine.

We see this all the time:

  • The guy who is a jerk but dates lots of women because he has the confidence to ask.
  • The salesperson who comes across as slick and annoying but still sells because he has the confidence to keep asking for the sale.
  • The executive who has really stupid ideas but says them with such confidence that people buy in.
  • And on and on

This is not to say that ability doesn’t matter. In fact it does very much. But nine times out of ten, confidence without ability beats ability without confidence.

Obviously, the best bet is to have ability and confidence. But if you think you are pretty good at what you do but feel you do not have the success you deserve (and see other, “less deserving” folk attaining), then step back, believe in yourself, run to the nearest rooftop and scream to the world how awesome you are! A little confidence can go a long way.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go write a blog post so good it will make your belly hurt…


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