On being smart

What is needed to succeed in school? A lot of people will probably answer this question with; You have to be smart! 

This paper is not sure about that statement. Nabil H Mustafa had a closer look at some of the world’s most famous mathematicians on how they achieved so many great intellectual achievements. 

It turns out the reason for their success was not ‘being smart,’ but it makes the case that doing hard work consistently is essential.

Gaus: If others would reflect on mathematical truths as deeply and consistently as I have, they would make my discoveries. 

In the US, 50% percent of the computer scientist students drop out of graduate school, and we all know the stories of the people who did, and what they were able to achieve. 

Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration. – Thomas Edison

In our current society, where everyone wants to be smart, or at least want to appear smart, we need to think differently about how to ‘succeed.’ 


I’m not talking about succeeding in life in general; there is much more in life than succeeding in school or building a successful company/career.

I’m talking about ‘being smart’ and asking the question of how important it is to solve problems. Because like in mathematics, solving problems is basically what building a company or product is.

Nicolas Taleb wrote an article about IQ, another metric that is highly celebrated in this day and age, is complete bull shit. Especially while solving real-world problems.

Research with a couple of students points out that being smart fairly matters, it’s the mindset that can help you solve questions. They found out that people who were told being smart, instead of being celebrated that they worked hard, had a lot of motivation problems, and when the questions became harder, they were miserable.

And the group that was celebrated that they worked hard? Well, they thrived and had a lot more fun while working on the more difficult tests. 

I get manic about it. Once I’m stuck on a problem I just can’t think about anything else. It’s more difficult. So I just take a little time off and then come back to it.” – Andrew Wiles (full interview)

Andrew Wiles, who solved the Fermat’s Last Theorem (the world’s most famous unsolved mathematical problem), spend eight years of his life solving the problem. The story and people familiar with his work made it obvious the reasons for this achievement was having courage, determination, and patience. Besides that careful planning and knowing when to give up a line of thought were crucial. 

The paper goes on and on with examples with people from the mathematical world on how they achieved their success and personally proved that working hard is an essential factor in solving problems. 

The brain is ultimately just a muscle. Make it stronger by working out. 

“They expected me to be wonderful to offer me a job like this and I wasn’t wonderful, and therefore I realized a new principle, which was that I’m not responsible for what other people think I am able to do; I don’t have to be good because they think I’m going to be good. And somehow or other I could relax about this, and I thought to myself, I haven’t done anything important and I’m never going to do anything important. But I used to enjoy physics and mathematical things and because I used to play with it. It was never very important but I used to do things for the fun of it, so I decided I’m going to do things only for the fun of it.” – Feynman