Why Just Being the World's Smartest Won't Get You Far
Intellectual leaders must also have access to resources and opportunities.
Yet you've probably never heard of Chris Langan. After working as a bouncer in Long Island for more than 20 years, the world's smartest man is a farmer who spends his free time writing about his "Theory of Everything," proving the existence of God, the soul, and afterlife through mathematical algorithms.
"Coming from the inheritance business counts more than most people think it does," Langan said from his rural Missouri horse ranch. "Credentials and connections are important to the achievements of material success."
To protect his younger brothers from his abusive father, Langan worked out and literally punched his dad out of the house when he was 16. He dropped out of college because of financial and transportation problems. At school, he found himself teaching his professors more than they could teach him. His life was filled with poverty and sheer bad luck. No matter how brilliant he may be, Langan is the antithesis of the rags-to-riches American Dream.
"I'm a product of my lower-class upbringing," Langan said. "I got disgusted with immoral materialism and tendencies to let self-interest run away with truth and injustice."
Nevertheless, the man is beyond genius. His research and theories are logically idealistic, but nobody will publish them because he has no record of accomplishment or professional affiliation.
Langan wasn't privileged enough to receive a proper education yet he still aced all his tests, proving the definition of success extends beyond the transcripts. His story is chronicled in Malcolm Gladwell's bestselling work Outliers: The Story of Success. In the book, Gladwell stresses that opportunities and hours of practice at a specific craft (10,000 to be precise) make people flourish. Gladwell says Bill Gates would have never revolutionized the world with Microsoft (MSFT) if he didn't have the chance to sneak out of his house every night to program computers at the University of Washington as a high school student.
As someone who is probably striving to be successful, you should analyze your life and consider whether you're closer to Bill Gates or Chris Langan on the potential success pendulum. If you're reading this column online, I'd say you're near Gates and far from Langan. Just like Gates, take advantage of your resources. The Internet is now likely the perfect one. Find your passions, and get good at them. During a time of rising unemployment, there's much wasted human capital. Put yourself to use, and eventually, do the same to others.
Langan's life has been a tragic waste of potential, for he has produced nothing of any value to society. The man is certainly intelligent, but he's walking proof that smarts alone aren't everything. Like many people with ridiculously high IQs, he may not be able to function at a basic human level. He had tons of promise, and he still does, but he should serve as the prime example of someone whose life you shouldn't want to model -- even if he is the smartest person in the world.
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