Marketing / Business marketing

Why smart people chronically under-perform in business

Smart people choose complex paths that force them to become busy managers instead of business people. I challenge you to choose this method instead.

27 December 2016 by

You’re smart. I know that because you’re doing a hard thing – starting or running your own business. Plus you’re reading this highly credible Flying Solo article …

But here’s the problem with you smart people. You tend to choose complex paths.

Source: Work your way Flying Solo’s step-by-step course. View more.

The results?

  • You take on way too many tasks (from SEO to bookkeeping to insurance to leaflet design).
  • Managing yourself is more like managing a corporation. You fall asleep at night clutching time management books.
  • You’re obsessed with Pomodoro, GTD, Miracle Mornings, Micro Habits, and Evernote.
  • Mediocrity. You don’t master anything (because nobody excels in 26 types of work).
  • When your to-do list is only ever 10% complete, you can feel like a failure every day.

Our brain being such a cool gadget, we think we should use it as much as possible. But it clearly tends to choose paths that are too complex and difficult to manage.

How to get control back

You need a dumber strategy.

What’s a dumb strategy? It’s a strategy that doesn’t depend one bit on your brilliance.

Let’s imagine a version of yourself but with 50 less IQ points (some of you will need to take off 100). Keep subtracting until you’re picturing a caveman. Your inner caveman has one goal: to become the most known person in his market.

"Our brain being such a cool gadget, we think we should use it as much as possible. "

That’s it.

He may not have the IQ to write long and involved to-do list, but he can sure do this:

  • Knock on a door.
  • Say his name.
  • State what he does.
  • Hand over a phone number and leave.

Could he use a more advanced strategy?


Does it need to be?


The goal is very clear – simply to be the most known person in his/her market, (as that alone will provide a decisive business advantage).

By simply knocking on doors, your cave-self reaches 100 new business owners each day – face to face.

Now, with all your smarts, with all of your technology, how many new businesses found out about your service yesterday? Are you beating the caveman?

Most of us aren’t.

Is it time to stop being so clever?

If your cave-self can grow a business faster than you can, it’s because he has a plan that is dead simple, and completely under his control. He can’t control whether someone likes or trusts him, but he can control if people know who he is (even if he has to surprise them in the carpark).

And you don’t have to knock on doors.

Maybe you want to be THE most active person in your industry in social media. Posting more than anyone else is something you can control 100%.

Your brain however (in its wisdom) will try to tell you to increase your quality (to average) and decrease your quantity (to average). Then ‘balance’ these with 12 other marketing activities.

Before too long your cave-self is driving a Ferrari and you’re catching the bus to Officeworks for more post-it notes …

What one thing could your cave-self do to beat you in business?

Dave Gillen

improves under-performing AdWords campaigns at Bankable Online Marketing in Brisbane.


  • Oh this was uncomfortably close to the bone. I am looking at my printed to-do list from Asana (and who can live without Evernote btw?) and sure there is leaflet design, writing newsletter, checking contracts etc, while checking my Adwords and updating Xero… Caveman? Maybe tomorrow, there is to much to do today, right? Right, but I hear you loud and clear, and it makes sense!

    • I know the feeling Susye! Well as long as you’ve jammed it somewhere on your to-do list that’s ok 🙂

  • Gerald Richards

    “Early to bed, early to rise, work like mad and advertise” – Dr Scholl

  • furqan

    This is so true. And I find my self in this exact position. Doing everything my self and not going out there and introducing my self.

    • Glad you can relate! Thanks for reading and good luck getting into a lower IQ mindset this year 🙂

  • Gob smacked Dave. Have you been studying me? You’re spot on with this, thanks for the reminder. Truth is I really envy the caveman too 🙂

  • This article had me in stitches. I’m gonna go make a fire and invite my new contacts for some quality face time. In your face Google. Thanks Dave and keep up the good work 🙂 Karl.

  • As with pretty much everything you write, I am actioning this THIS WEEK! Soooo many ideas – but Kelly, choose the most high impact one and JUST DO IT ALREADY!

    • Good luck Kelly! Letting go of a few things is the hard part 🙂

  • Thanks for taking the time to comment Lesley, much appreciated. 🙂 Here’s to a simpler week ahead!?

  • This is so on the nail Dave. Sometimes it’s freaky how quickly the right information appears once you become aware that you need it.

  • Gerald Richards

    And smart people may have a tendency to overthink the situation – Paralysis by Analysis

  • I am sometimes not a very nice person, so if I come across something that’s stymieing me for a bit, I tend to think “stupid people can do this; therefore, so can I”.

    I suspect it’s a snarkier version of “tap your inner cavewoman”, as it encourages me to try and think of the simpler way of approaching whatever my otherwise-over-active brain is trying to get done.

  • Hi Dave,
    Too true. Equally, a lot of not very bright people do extremely well – perhaps because they are not smart enough to do it all themselves.

  • OMG! I really needed this. Thank you Dave Gillen for an insightful post. I need to keep things simple. simple. simple.

104,847 people use Flying Solo to help them create a business with life. Do you?

Connect with Flying Solo

Explore the benefits of membership