How to Identify a Pseudo-Smart Person

4 things truly intelligent people never do

Alan Trapulionis



Over my career as a copywriter, I’ve interviewed dozens of top performers. I’ve been privileged to have genuine, deep 1-on-1 conversations with heads of multi-million dollar businesses. These are aggressively smart people, who make me feel humbled just by their presence.

It’s comical how different these people are from my peers. Many of my acquaintances feel extremely smart. They have zero achievements to back up their ego. Even when every piece of evidence shows that they’re not so smart, they find a smart reason why the world is wrong and they’re right.

That’s not how top performers think. Here are four things I noticed truly smart people never do.

1. They don’t overthink

Instead, they test things with brutal immediacy.

Ironically, a hallmark trait of highly intelligent people is humility. Intelligence is a by-product of experience and knowledge, and smart people are painfully aware of the things they don’t know or can’t do.

When you think about it, overthinking is just a state of inflated ego. You think that you can ‘think up’ an answer to your problem. You think that you’re smart enough to solve a problem just in your head.

That’s not what smart people do. Smart people embrace what the author of The Black Swan calls the anti-library: a set of all the things we don’t know. Smart people know that the answers to their problems cannot be found in their head.

Instead, they take immediate action. They’ll sign contracts on an impulse and cut them off just as brutally. If they find something interesting, they’ll turn 140% of their energy to that thing alone, and then leave it as soon as they realize it didn’t work.

Here’s how to identify a pseudo-smart person: ask them what they’ve actually done in order to achieve their goals. If they start justifying their inaction, you’re dealing with a pseudo-intellectual.

2. They don’t do small talk

Instead, they lead with borderline honesty and directness.