Why Intelligence Has Less To Do With Success Than You Think

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Have you ever heard the phrase, “if you’re so smart why aren’t you rich?” At face value, it makes sense that smart people should have an easy time to figure out how to make money. If someone can build a rocket, shouldn’t they also be able to figure out how to make a little money? 

Truth is, data shows that intelligence only has 1-2% to do with your financial success. Financial success partly comes down to luck, but recent studies have shown that a bigger factor is something else. 

Economist James Heckman recently co-authored a paper, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last month, that concludes that personality has a large role in someone’s financial success. Specifically, financial success is most correlated with conscientiousness. 

“Conscientiousness is one of the “super traits” in the Big Five model of personality. The trait has six dimensions: Self-Efficacy, Orderliness, Dutifulness, Achievement-Striving, Self-Discipline, and Cautiousness.” – Source 

“Standard features of this dimension include high levels of thoughtfulness, good impulse control, and goal-directed behaviors. Highly conscientious people tend to be organized and mindful of details. They plan ahead, think about how their behavior affects others, and are mindful of deadlines.” – Source

People who score high on Conscientiousness will have most of the following traits:

  • Goal driven, and high achievers. Loves a challenge.
  • Strong convictions. Certain.
  • Hard working and persevering.
  • Neat, Detailed and Orderly. Often has a To-Do list.
  • Cautious and careful in all areas of their lives.
  • Law-abiding and morally ethical. Does the “right thing”.
  • High satisfaction with life.
  • Plans and deliberates.
  • Honors contracts and delivers on promises.
  • Less prone to extramarital affairs, spousal abuse and other negative behaviors in a relationship.
  • Knows how to manage conflict.
  • Responsible parents and partners.
  • Conservative. Loves to follow the norm.
  • Thrifty and cautious.
  • Tends to accumulate things. Pack rats.


Some of you may look at this list and think, “but that’s not who I am.” The good news is that you can cultivate conscientiousness through repeated practice by taking incremental steps. For example, start by keeping a tidy desk or using smart technology to set reminders and schedule your day. 

Other small steps you can take are: getting regular excercise, meditation, showing up on time, and showing gratitude. 

Your career will thank you for it. 

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My goal with this blog is to provide insights and tools that our educational system fail to teach us and show you how to navigate this modern world, become financially secure, and be your best self!


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