After meeting a large amount of people from different domains and walks of life over the last few years a pattern has started to surface to me of people who ‘sound smart’ vs. people who are ‘actually smart.’ So thought I’d try to identify the subtle signals so that I can better recognize them going forward:

People Who Like to Sound Smart

  • Tend to be quick to offer strong opinions
  • Cite a single reference and orient their entire argument around that piece as a source of truth
  • Struggle to hold competing ideas simultaneously
  • Hold theory with more weight than reality
  • Talk at you not with you
  • Generally find them to be overconfident
  • Often talk fast

People Who Are Smart

  • Able to hold competing view points in their heads
  • Show more inquiry and less certainty
  • Treat things as more experimental than certain
  • Doubt themselves and the past as a prediction of future results
  • Generally find them to be more empathetic
  • Often talk slower

Of course, there are many exceptions to this heuristic (if you can even call it that) - its most likely more of a continuum between two camps more than anything. One ‘camp’ more focused on external signals and the other ‘camp’ is more focused on internal, seem to be playing completely different games.