Top 5 Ways to Outsmart Yourself in Business

You’re smart. In fact, you’re smarter than average. Friends (and sometimes strangers) turn to you for advice. Everybody says you’re as good or better than others in your field who are have more clients, charge more for their work, and get more attention.

What’s up with that?

Being too smart isn’t about IQ

Outsmarting yourself in business isn’t a function of IQ. It’s more often a function of knowledge fused with insecurity.

Without further ado, here are the top five ways to outsmart yourself in business. And, just so you know, I’ve done every one of them. That’s why I know they don’t work. It’s also proof that you can recover.

#5 Terminal Capability, aka “I Can Do That!”

You get sucked into the black hole of terminal capability when you do things because you can at the expense of work that only you can do. It’s what my friend Michael Bungay Stanier calls sacrificing Great Work to Good Work.

Remedy: Decide what your genius is and figure out how to delegate everything else. If you are a brilliant coach, don’t write copy for your clients. If you are a plumber, don’t build decks.

#4 Casual Commitments, aka “I Know What I Need to Do”

A casual commitment is an incomplete promise. You confuse knowing what you need to do with deciding to do it and following through. You’re fuzzy about means and the timing. You don’t set clear standards for success or build in external structures of accountability.

Remedy: Chunk things down and be specific about when you’re going to do each piece. Get someone else to hold you accountable for what I call high value actions, discrete actions that move your business forward.

#3 Faux Learning,aka “I Knew That!”

I’ve attended some pretty expensive and time-intensive trainings over the years, and invariably there is at least one person (sometimes it’s me) who is intent on proving how smart she is.

It’s expensive. It’s wasteful. And it does nothing to grow a healthy business.

Remedy: Set learning goals so you’ll pay more attention to what you don’t know than to what you do.

#2 Information Addiction

When you’re really smart, it’s easy to learn. When your confidence drops, it is all too easy to escape into another course, program, or book. I call this information addiction. And as with any addiction, the more you feed it, the bigger it grows. Every time you learn something new, the bar for what you could know just gets higher.

Remedy: Take a vow of abstinence from information. Start with one week. When you’re tempted to buy a book, sign up for a program, or go to a workshop, stop. Challenge yourself instead to put one thing you already know into action in your business.

#1 Projected Perfectionism

The number one way that you can be outsmart yourself in business is being preoccupied with other people’s mistakes. I call this projected perfectionism.

There are two ways that projecting perfectionism onto others keeps you stuck.

First, collecting evidence of how others fall short gives you a temporary shot of superiority. You can get addicted to this lift, preferring to spend notice what others are doing wrong rather than risk making your own mistakes.

Which leads to the second way and most insidious way that projected perfectionism keeps you stuck: It feeds into the fear that, if your work is more visible, you will be the object of constant criticism. It proves that it’s safer to be a critic than a creator.

Remedy: Notice your reflexive judgments. Ask yourself what you would do better or differently. Then do it.

What Happens to the Smart People?

Being too smart can keep you from growing a business in spite of your talent. Here’s an epigram from The Charming Prince, dating to his years in architecture school:

“The B students work for the C students, and the A students teach.”

Let’s prove them wrong.

About Molly Gordon

Molly Gordon is the owner of Shaboom Inc., a company devoted to helping Accidental Entrepreneurs who are allergic to business develop the skills they need to prosper. She’s an artist, writer, marketing consultant, and coach -- as well as a paddle-boarder, cyclist, singer, and grandmother. She lives in Suquamish, Washington with her husband, two hens, and Bolivia the Wonder Cat. Molly blogs at, where you can also sign up for her weekly ezine, Authentic Promotion.