Not just smart, but wise. I know plenty of smart people. I know very few truly wise people.
It struck me recently that I know too few wise people. The ones I do know have a certain demeanor or way about them that’s unmistakable. They share a set of common traits which I think give them particular perspective and they tend to be unfazed by enormous success or failure.
They take time to appreciate what other people have to say through a filter that is unique to the person saying it. I like talking to wise people. They listen thoughtfully and they don’t hang their smartness, or your lack of, over you. Sometimes they give advice and sometimes they don’t.
I used to think that being wise was directly correlated to age. I’m reconsidering that. I also used to think that wise people were almost always very well educated and again I’m reconsidering that too.
A number of years ago when I first became a VC I tried really really hard to ask good questions. I would sit through board meetings or company pitches and try really hard to get to the root of things by asking increasingly detailed and what I considered smart questions. It had a lot to do with my joining a VC firm as a Sr. Associate and I was spending all my time with people who were always smarter and more knowledgeable about their businesses than I was. I used to marvel at my boss who would routinely sit through an hour or more discussion without saying a word, and then ask a question or two that were both simple and to the point at the same time. Other times he would sum up a difficult conversation with a point or a suggestion that were equally simple and clear. I think he listened as hard as I thought about what questions to ask.
I’ve come to the conclusion that there are a key set of traits that all wise people all seem to share:
1. Basic human intelligence
Sort of like common sense, but its more of the ability to read people, understand where they are coming from and more importantly, what motivates them.
2. Generally positive yet pragmatic outlook
Goes without saying, but they all seem to have an equal parts positive and pragmatic outlook on things.
3. A core belief
This takes on different forms for different people. I’ve heard it described before as people’s “home base”. Essentially this is a guiding core belief about something. It could be about a market or industry; it could be about human nature or motivations. It is not the same as religious belief.
4. Appreciation for other people’s accomplishments
This is perhaps the most important. The people who I consider to be truly wise are also those that have the most appreciation of the accomplishments of others regardless how big or small.
I like wise people.