My wife is smarter than me. I'm not just saying that because she might read this post or have a friend pass it on to her. She is 100% smarter - from her SAT's to her LSAT's to what impresses me the most, her decision making. I always knew she was smart, but it took me some time to articulate her "smarts."
Decision making is an interesting thing. We all do it, but the vast majority of times our decisions do not require active thought. The best decision I ever made was not going to graduate school in psychology. I need to thank Dr. Sabatini from the Psychology Department of Penn for giving me the best advice ever - don't go to grad school. I will not enjoy it or succeed. It took me almost fifteen years to understand my ex-professor's advice. I like psychology and thought I could make a decent practitioner, but what he understood better than me was the word practitioner didn't have to mean an academic or a professional in psychology. Then again, I can be literal, so it would have never occurred to me that there are other options.
That I followed my professor's advice makes me not dumb, but it doesn't make me smart. How people handle the decisions where no habit can help and no obvious guidance exists is among the biggest defining traits of not just smarts but success. Marketers are kings of decision making, but the type of decision making at which they influence, essentially tricking our brains into creating a habit of choosing one brand over another, is different from the more complex decisions that can't be "habitized" (were such a word to exist).
How we process information is key to decision making, and it is one many reasons why I appreciate my wife. She can be equally literal if not rigid, but it has less do with her decision making ability and more the emotions that get in the way of decision making. When operating on pure objectivity, her strengths shines, which is an ability to basically compare apples and oranges to decide between options where a) neither seems particularly wrong and b) the results of the decision won't be feel differentiated for some time in the future.
So why is the dumber one in the family not unsuccessful?
How We Decide And What Influences Our Decisions
You can study decision making for the rest of your life and never come close to mastery, and again, luckily, we can do quite well making decisions without understanding our reasoning or being aware of even making the decision. It is critical, though, to be aware influences on decision making. Pressure, stress, anxiety, fear, all of which are related to each other, are among the biggest factors to change how we think. That is why some of the best decision makers (and those who coach) will ask themselves (whether they know it or not), "How would I make this decision if I didn't have to worry about this (shiny object of concern)?"
Offense versus Defense
People often talk about one's risk threshold. The classic entrepreneur, adventure seeker, etc., has a risk profile where they feel less discomfort under uncertainty and/or need that risk present. As much as I identify with being an entrepreneur, I don't have the risk profile, so I have a proxy mechanism for thinking about things - offense versus defense. Offense is not the same as risk taking for me. It does, however, enable me to take risks.
Offense is a focus on the problem that drives you. It's what had me leave my near-founder role of a $150mm rev company to start my conference business, which I sold earlier this year. I didn't start it to make money, and as I will tell anyone, a conference business can be amazing, but it will never have the allure or multiples of a tech business. It was, though, the right decision for me because solving that void in the marketplace was enough.
Just as offense is not the same as taking risks, defense does not mean playing it safe. Defense is fear. Defense is standing up on the tee box, or the free throw line, or the app store, or just about any decision where you become tentative and instead of thinking about the center of the fairway, you are thinking about not hitting it in the water. And, of course, as soon as you try to not hit it in the water, you do. How do you hit it in fairway usually? It's by focusing on the right thing, the right mechanics, and executing, by not allowing the outside factors of what could go wrong dictate actions. Defense can lead to not taking risks, because by default you are trying to keep what you have instead of growing what you have, but the answer to growing what you have isn't always, taking risks. That's why I make the distinction.
How Do You Decide?
Do you "Focus on the Upside," or do you "Protect Against the Downside?" I think a person can do both, and it is one's ability to control the influencers of our decision making that dictate how well you do one versus falling into the trap of the other. For me, as the prototypical slightly obsessive, heck - slightly neurotic - persona, it means a constant battle to play offense and focus on the upside. Others come by it more naturally. Playing offense and focusing on the upside does not mean you will always make better decisions, but it usually means you will at least be happier with your decisions, feel more inspired about what you do, and achieve my favorite oxymoron of life - better results by caring less about what the results are.
Thank again @kamaravikant.