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20 Reasons Why Intelligent People Fail

Intelligent Failure Woman

This is a really interesting list from Robert Sternberg’s book,

In Search of the Human Mind

1. Lack of motivation. A talent is irrelevant if a person is not motivated to use it. Motivation may be external (for example, social approval) or internal (satisfaction from a job well-done, for instance). External sources tend to be transient, while internal sources tend to produce more consistent performance.

2. Lack of impulse control. Habitual impulsiveness gets in the way of optimal performance. Some people do not bring their full intellectual resources to bear on a problem but go with the first solution that pops into their heads.

3. Lack of perserverance and perseveration. Some people give up too easily, while others are unable to stop even when the quest will clearly be fruitless.

4. Using the wrong abilities. People may not be using the right abilities for the tasks in which they are engaged.

5. Inability to translate thought into action. Some people seem buried in thought. They have good ideas but rarely seem able to do anything about them.

6. Lack of product orientation. Some people seem more concerned about the process than the result of activity.Intelligent Failure

7. Inability to complete tasks. For some people nothing ever draws to a close. Perhaps it’s fear of what they would do next or fear of becoming hopelessly enmeshed in detail.

8. Failure to initiate. Still others are unwilling or unable to initiate a project. It may be indecision or fear of commitment.

9. Fear of failure. People may not reach peak performance because they avoid the really important challenges in life.

10. Procrastination. Some people are unable to act without pressure. They may also look for little things to do in order to put off the big ones.

11. Misattribution of blame. Some people always blame themselves for even the slightest mishap. Some always blame others.

12. Excessive self-pity. Some people spend more time feeling sorry for themselves than expending the effort necessary to overcome the problem.

13. Excessive dependency. Some people expect others to do for them what they ought to be doing themselves.

14. Wallowing in personal difficulties. Some people let their personal difficulties interfere grossly with their work. During the course of life, one can expect some real joys and some real sorrows. Maintaining a proper perspective is often difficult.

15. Distractibility and lack of concentration. Even some very intelligent people have very short attention spans.

16. Spreading oneself too thin or too thick. Undertaking too many activities may result in none being completed on time. Undertaking too few can also result in missed opportunities and reduced levels of accomplishment.

17. Inability to delay gratification. Some people reward themselves and are rewarded by others for finishing small tasks, while avoiding bigger tasks that would earn them larger rewards.Intelligent Monkey

18. Inability to see the forest for the trees. Some people become obsessed with details and are either unwilling or unable to see or deal with the larger picture in the projects they undertake.

19. Lack of balance between critical, analytical thinking and creative, synthetic thinking. It is important for people to learn what kind of thinking is expected of them in each situation.

20. Too little or too much self-confidence. Lack of self-confidence can gnaw away at a person’s ability to get things done and become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Conversely, individuals with too much self-confidence may not know when to admit they are wrong or in need of self-improvement.


If you know someone who this may apply to, share it with them in a nice way!


  1. I don’t understand. This is all qualities of unintelligent people. What does it mean and what should I do?? Could you tell me how to think??

    • These are all the qualities of people, full stop.

    • Completely agree with the article.

      Also read: “20 failings that successful people do not suffer from”

    • This is about intelligent people not using their intelligence fully. Not reaching up to their full potential.
      And yes, these are the qualities that people have or lack, like Alan said 😛

      What you should do? Perhaps try to take one of the qualities mentioned and try to work on it if applicable? I need to stop procrastinating.

      Thanks a bunch for the insightful article!

  2. I find this article disgustingly stupid. That may sound very harsh, and I may be accused of being an unqualified, hateful, ignorant troll. Nevertheless, let me rant, and maybe we can revive this much needed conversation. About me : I have a decent life, not a great life, but manageable. I can imagine much better, and I truly have the best in mind for the people in general. Too bad that this thinking is totally futile for me. Why? Short answer – I can’t seem to find people that are cooperative, emotionally stable, and/or mentally prepared for reality. Long answer : My life up to this point is mostly just an accumulation of lies, emotional miscommunications, and the teachings of ignorant wannabes. I am lucky however. I am as stubborn as it gets, and I have a strong desire to protect myself from all of it. Gradually I learned what it really means to experience life at its roots. When I found myself lacking, I dug in deep to admit my shortcomings and find a way. When close family turned their back on me, I moved forward, always on the lookout for happier days. There is much more darkness in my life but suffice to say that I have been pushed to the brink, and found myself still fighting. Which brings me back here – to the discussion of things like intelligence, and success and whether successify is a legit word at all. So here goes… I am not always bright, but I strive to be. I sometimes have emotional outbursts but then I find calm. I don’t know everything, but if I could live forever, I would certainly try. Life isn’t a black and white list. It’s an open ended discovery of truth, kindness, and willingness to adapt. I hope some of this made some sense, and maybe someone can identify with it, or even expand on it. Thanks.

    • Thank you so much Walter for your insights and sharing so much about yourself. I love your philosophy on life and the way you have handled things. I guess that is the great thing about life; everyone gets to do it a different way. I recognize that the articles I write are on those ideas that appeal to me or to those who are similar to me. Sometimes I forget to represent the other side. Thanks so much for holding me to it. Best of luck with everything! – Kris

      P.S. – You are correct, “Successify” is not a legit word! 😉

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