Getting an Edge Where It Matters Most

by Amechi Chukwujama

The difference between a great performance and a good performance is not exactly the difference between a right choice and a wrong choice. Neither is it the difference between an intelligent choice and a dumb choice. It is the difference between a smart alternative and the predictable alternative.

Doing anything big, such as effecting a great performance in your chosen career, is not determined by how brilliant, intelligent, educative, or “creative” you are, but by how smart. You may have three Ph.Ds. yet find it difficult to carry out the simplest tasks. The missing link is smartness.

Smartness is the ability to achieve results or get things done with the minimum expenditure of time, energy, and mental efforts – often in a novel way.

Being smart pre-supposes being intelligent in a clever, skillful way. Since smartness is defined by a quick brain, clear thoughts, balanced emotions, and ingenuity one needs to be smart to excel in any calling. (Only a small proportion of those who can be described as smart are universally smart – the rest are smart in a restricted area.)

Even in purely intellectual and scientific fields, the smart guy leads the pack. Remember Albert Einstein? He wasn’t a particularly brilliant guy. He was slow from infancy, troublesome at school, and capped his academic failures with a disgraceful expulsion order from his teacher who told him, “Your presence in this classroom is disruptive and affects other pupils.”

Eleven years after his expulsion from school in 1905, 26-year-old Einstein who was then a patent examiner in the Swiss Patent Office at Berne published the Theory of Relativity that changed our understanding of the workings of the Universe. And you ask, how did Einstein work?

Towards the end of the 19th century, the American physicist Michelson established experimentally that a light ray travels at the incredible velocity of 300,000 kilometers per second. And that it is impossible to “catch” a light ray, for no matter how fast you travel, it will always escape from you with this speed.

Every other physicist set out to work, but no matter how hard they thought about Michelson’s experiment, they couldn’t give a sensible explanation to it. Then enter Einstein. What did he do? He began from the end. He assumed that light possesses such a property that made it behave in this way. That was that. Everything fell into line. Every other physicist contemplated on this for about two decades and then said “amen.”

Wasn’t that smartness? Mention, if you can, anybody who has achieved any noteworthy success in his calling without being extra smart: Agatha Christie, George Lucas, Kissinger, Gorbachev, Napoleon, Isaac Newton, Pablo Picasso, Oprah Winfrey, Freud, Socrates, Paul the Apostle, Mother Teresa, Prophet Mohammed, FDR, Tiger Woods.

If in your memory bank (or experience base) you associate smartness with dishonesty (or the idea of being smart conveys images of sharpness) it is just unfortunate, for anyone who is intentionally dishonest is dishonest. It doesn’t need qualifying.

Basically, then, a smarter person than you lives in the same neighborhood, exists in the same society, and breathes the same air. He faces the same constraints, has the same information, but has found a way of cutting through these barriers and has devised an innovative system of combining this information for a better output.

Let us use a weak analogy to illustrate the added edge smartness can give to intelligence. If we imagine intelligent entities to be diesel-powered cars moving in a fog, a smart intelligent entity can be likened to a turbodiesel with halogen headlamps.

A smart intelligent guy knows that at the end of the day, what matters is achieving results – not how long it took, or who put in the most, or how many times he failed. It is not surprising then that he wouldn’t discount an option just because it sounds cranky (or absurd). He understands that life is a game and consists of creating and solving problems. He therefore does not look at problems as obstacles but opportunities.

He also knows that whenever there is a need for the individual to make a decision, the mind follows a continuous process of asking and answering questions, which is in four states: the question (problem identification and definition); the alternatives; the consequences; and the judgment/decision.

Smartness is an acquired and dynamic ability that can only be seen or identified when it is being made use of or put to work. Many people are not born with it. It is an art of the possible – not a theoretical concept that can only be understood and made use of by baldheaded eggheads or the gods. If you don’t have it (yet), take heart: it can be learned.

According to Goethe, “there is no growth without activity.” Work is central to success. So let us re-examine the concept of work. One of the myths about success is that hard work and prosperity have a positive correlation. Of course, there is no truth in that statement, for if you look around you, you’ll find that the hardest workers are always the poorest. If hard work brings success, African housewives, trench diggers, blockmolders, bricklayers, truck drivers, nomadic herdsmen and subsistence farmers will be the most prosperous.

Don’t let anybody deceive you, if hard work brings prosperity every coal miner in South Africa or Ukraine would be richer than Michael Jordan, Geoge Soros and Warren Buffet put together. What brings prosperity is rather working smarter.

The secret to working smarter is to see yourself as a lazy person. Yes, you heard me right – a lazy person. If you look at it any other way, you will be making a mistake.

Simply, a lazy person is someone who is eager to save work. Saving work implies saving the time needed for its completion (since work expands to fill the time needed for its completion), and minimizing the mental, physical, and material inputs necessary to get the work done.

Perish the thought that to “make it”, you have to break your head, work donkey years, or pay your “dues.” If you can devise a scheme within the law to collect one dollar from every person that logs on to the internet today, you’d become hundreds of millions of dollars richer. And no one can say that you don’t deserve it. Well, when you think about it, they’ll say so, but that’s their opinion!

According to Mrs. Hetty Green, who accumulated a large fortune in her time without capital, friend or influence, “The goal of success is not always reached by the toughest road; the path is an easy one to find. That’s why so many people miss it.”

Get an edge where it really matters most – in your life. From today, try to deliberately look for easier, faster, and cheaper ways of getting the results you desire. Think like a lazy person!

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Alejandro Barreto February 16, 2006 - 2:52 pm

Brilliant, I love this article. Thanks!

— Alejandro Barreto

Anonymous February 16, 2006 - 2:47 pm

Oh this is so very true. Thank you Mr. Chukwujama! A very intellectual discussion.

By the way, I reached an interesting conclusion (plain from my intuition, without any concrete proofs, but I still believe it):

Success = 20% hard work 80% smartness

Anonymous June 5, 2005 - 7:34 pm

This has given me a new quote to live by.

Anonymous May 2, 2005 - 1:22 am

…this article is the truth. So much truth in what you said here. a very refreshing read.


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