Why MANY smart people are not social?

You and I both have met enough smart people who are not social. And while social has many meanings, what I am referring to is social at the fundamental level – to invest ongoing time and energy in conversations with people that fall under a broad spectrum of relationships (from strangers to close friends.) Social media simply happens to be a more efficient (may not be more effective all the time) medium for those conversations.

I went on a journey to explore the reasons for the same. Some of the reasons are obvious but some would definitely surprise you.

But, before we go there, let us look at the smart and social landscape. If we put them all in a graph, we can slot people into four quadrants namely:

1. Not Smart and Not Social: These people are Invisible and except for people that have relationships with them, others won’t notice that they are missing.

2. Not Smart and Social: These are Noise Generators. With the barrier to entry for any social media tool being so low, they talk a lot but the value of what they say is questionable.

3. Smart but Not Social: These are Hidden Gems. I have to be careful here as there are many people in this category that are not “hidden.” Their work is so valuable that others will amplify it for them.

4. Smart and Social: These are Amplifiers. They bring a lot of value and being social they know how to amplify their value.

Our focus in this blog post is on #3 – Hidden Gems.

Why are these smart people not so social. Here are reasons that I got:

1. They never felt the need to be social:

Many people that I spoke to expressed that they haven’t felt the need to be social and they would rather prefer relationships with a close-knit group than spreading their energy. They are social in their own limited circle but not the way others expect them to be. If you have to choose between quality and quantity, you should go for quality when it comes to building relationships.

2. They are super busy:

Some expressed that they are so busy with their current projects that they don’t have ANY time to engage with new people. That is not to say that they don’t meet with new people – but these new people they meet come via one-to-one introductions via their trusted sources.

3. They don’t believe ROI story (completely):

They don’t believe the general explanation of ROI. Their logic – the general ROI explanation “assumes” that one does not have a better use for the time invested in being social. These people don’t buy that and say that the alternatives (for example, inventing something new, writing a book etc.) available are equally or more powerful.

4. They are not easily “box”able

This is a problem more for others who are “dealing” with these smart people. Human beings have a need to “box” other people – that gives them the comfort knowing “who they are dealing with.” Many smart people (ex: polymaths) are not easily “box”able – increasing the difficulty to being social.

5. Signal discovery is expensive in the social world:

Time is precious for these people and for some of them, time is more precious than money. Investing time means they are investing more than money so they expect to get a better ROII (return on investment for an interaction.) Unfortunately, many places where people hang out are filled with noise and these people have no interest in investing their time to “discover” the signals from the social world.

They believe that being social will help them discover some gems. However, they are not convinced of the investment they need to make to discover those gems.

6. They believe that amplification will be automatic if the contribution is valuable enough

One advantage of being social is the reach and amplification that comes with it. Many people that belong to the above category were of the opinion that if the work is truly valuable, it automatically get the amplification. When I countered them quoting the case of Apple products that are marketed heavily, their response was that they are not against marketing but they want to create something that is marketing-worthy first. One of them said that it is best to spend 90% of the time creating and 10% marketing it than to do it the other way round.

7. Big frequency mismatches frustrate them:

In a classroom, a teacher has to deal with students of all levels of intelligence. He or she needs to have the patience to construct the message so that (hopefully) ALL the students will understand it.  The teacher is happy to accomodate this and adjust his or her communication. That is not the case with these smart people. They have no interest or to time to engage where there is BIG frequency mismatch.

Have a great week ahead!