As a kid, it’s tough not to notice all the smart students.
It seemed like they could breeze through school like it was nothing while the rest of us spent hours studying just to get Bs and Cs — maybe the occasional A. They were destined for greatness.
In high school, the smart kids were always voted “Most Likely to Succeed.”
I’ve always been conflicted about this phenomenon.
I never truly believed that IQ alone had that much effect on one’s ability to build wealth. A high IQ is great, don’t get me wrong. Society needs smart people in business. But how critical is a high IQ to building wealth and becoming a “success” in life?
According to Nobel laureate James Heckman, not very.
Along with other researchers, Heckman and his team studied IQ scores, standardized testing results, and class grades for thousands of people worldwide (the U.S., Britain, and the Netherlands). They matched these scores against the personality traits of the study’s participants.
The study found that a high IQ accounts for only 1 to 2% of one’s financial success- a tiny amount.
“Raw IQ scores hardly matter at all when it comes to worldly success,” wrote Inc. Magazine. While grades were a better predictor of success than IQ, even grades failed to influence life outcomes significantly.
Grades reflect not just intelligence but also what Heckman calls ‘noncognitive skills,’ such as perseverance, good study habits, and the ability to collaborate — in other words, conscientiousness. To a lesser extent, the same is true of test scores.
Okay, so what does accurately predict life’s outcomes?
Personality Traits > IQ
The study found that one’s personality traits significantly impacted financial success much more than raw intelligence.
Specifically, those who possessed conscientiousness and curiosity were most likely to achieve financial success throughout their careers.
Conscientious people are natural wealth-builders. People willing to go the extra mile to do their jobs well are conscientious. Through self-discipline and self-control, they work hard to achieve their goals even in difficult situations. They rarely give up. Conscientious people are highly organized and willing to delay gratification to achieve their goals and dreams.
Curious people don’t stand still for long. They are quick to try new things, learn new subjects, and take the initiative to figure things out.
If you often ask yourself, “I wonder how this works?” you’re curious.
Curious people excel in their careers because they take the time to learn about how things work. This includes exploring new ways of doing business, software products, and day-to-day tasks. This curiosity can lead to efficiency improvements and creative ideas for problems others haven’t considered.
A conscientious, curious, and diligent (← my addition) person will outperform a high-IQ professional without those personality traits over a career.
Don’t be discouraged if you aren’t the smartest person in the office. According to research, your personality can make up for it.