What is More Important? Intelligence or Hard Work? Brains or Work Ethic?

“The separation of talent and skill is one of the greatest misunderstood concepts for people who are trying to excel, who have dreams, who want to do things. Talent you have naturally. Skill is only developed by hours and hours and hours of beating on your craft.” – Will Smith

brains or work ethic

Let’s dive into the most common debate when it comes to success. Do people succeed because they’re smart or because of their hard work?

We’ll dive into both sides of the argument without any bias.

A) Brains / Intelligence

First, let’s define what ‘brains’ means in this context. Brains means intelligence. It means being smart or well educated in a particular field, such as business or sports, but also being smart in general, as a competitor.

Inside the Mind of Michael Jordan

Michael Jordan is considered by many the G.O.A.T. of the basketball game. He is highly intelligent when it comes to basketball. This is why he has quick instincts and sharp body-kinesthetic intelligence: the ability to use body movement to his advantage.

But he also uses his intelligence in a general way, by observing environmental factors and by guessing what’s going to happen next in the game. He also uses interpersonal intelligence and linguistic intelligence to guide other players both during and before the game.

Can Intelligence be Learned?

Can an average player gain the different types of intelligence with sheer hard work and will power? Probably not to the level of Michael Jordan. But one can certainly rise to the top if they’re determined and willing to find a way.

Look at it this way – if you have extraordinary intelligence in your chosen field like Michael Jordan but you don’t work hard, you’ll lose to the person who has average intelligence and still works hard.

B) Work Ethic / Hard Work

“I’ve never really viewed myself as particularly talented. Where I excel is ridiculous, sickening work ethic. You know, while the other guy’s sleeping, I’m working. While the other guys’ eating, I’m working.” – Will Smith

No matter how intelligent you are, if you don’t work hard, you’ll never be able to create anything extraordinary. How so? Because talent is the ability to learn something very fast. But it doesn’t mean you won’t have to put in the work. It just means your mind is naturally drawn to your craft, so you can learn faster than others.

Intelligence Can Be Developed Using Feedback

Hard work is the momentum. Intelligence is the direction. Both work in tandem to reach the goal. Intelligence knows the direction. But hard work can still discover the direction with trial and error. 

Intelligence is knowing what to do. But hard work is execution. People who work really hard get feedback from their efforts. Such feedback informs them what is working and what’s not. And this is how they’re able to grow their intelligence in the relevant field.

As Elon Musk says, “Really pay attention to negative feedback and solicit it, particularly from friends. … Hardly anyone does that, and it’s incredibly helpful.”

Success is 80% Psychology, 20% Strategy

David Goggins, known as the toughest athlete on the planet, says that we need to have the non-cognitive skills to achieve greatness. It means you can have average brains (cognitive skills), but if you embody discipline, determination, integrity, and perseverance – you will become great.

This is also similar to what Tony Robbins says – success is 80% psychology, 20% strategy. It’s not about how good your game is, it’s about how hungry, determined, and focused you are.

So what do you think is more important – brains or work ethic? Intelligence or hard work?

Let us know in the comments below!


4 Responses

  1. Muhammad Kazim

    I have seen many intelligent people failing in life and many apparently less intelligent leading a successful life due shear hard work, perseverance and resilience (I am 71).

  2. Parvaiz Ahmad

    In the nascent I would mention a quote I had heard somewhere around… Hardwork beats the talent when the talent doesn’t work .
    This was just a quote I mentioned hereinafter.
    Now I will come up with the reality and experience I had observed in my life . I speculate hardwork has a vital role to play in ones victory . the reference is the past whenever and whatever the changes and transformation took place from the past until now are justified with hardwork because people chiefly read that legends and sophisticated persons have failed number of times in their lives but the reason they succeed is the persistence .I also saw outnumbered of people with ordinary aptitude and cognition but diligent and succeed .

  3. Josh

    The previous comment would be more relevant and influential if it was grammatically correct. More than happy for people commenting on intelligence versus hard work to use colloquialisms but to incorrectly use words and not even bother with capital letters after full stops means they wouldn’t even get an interview submitting a CV.


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