I have here a special, economics-type query which I direct to Brad DeLong, among others. Here's the thing: I have known many investment bankers in my day. Hell, I'm related to plenty of investment bankers, even if only by marriage. Many of these men are stand-up guys, fun to be with, always up for smoking a few bowls and playing golf. Others are asshole blowhards. Mmm, more of the latter, probably. All of them, however, have the same basic character type, which I will call "Chet". Chet is a hail-fellow-well-met sort, .... Chet is tall, probably tan, and has big white teeth like a mouthful of chiclets. If Chet does not play golf, it is only because he has ascended into the super-Chetosphere and plays polo. Chet is a member of country clubs, and has a thin wife, and two adorable kids, etc. etc. ... Finally, Chet has an incredibly high opinion of himself. He is confident to the point of arrogance, but friendly, outgoing. There is one thing Chet is not, ever, in my experience, and that is particularly bright. Really. Not an intellectual powerhouse, is where I'm going with this. Not, in all likelihood, able to perform complex mathematical operations. Given that this is so, I have a few questions.
Alamedia then goes on to ask a series of questions, each of which essentially boils down to, "why is an idiot like Chet so successful?"
Brad DeLong responds by stating (if I may paraphrase) that the reason why an idiot like Chet makes so much money is because Chet really isn't an idiot. And that's true, so far as it goes. Yet, though I fully endorse DeLong's answer, there's a little bit more to it. Speaking as one who swims among the Chets -- heck, who may even be a self-hating, closeted Chet -- there are four further reasons that explain Chetdom.
If you have a drum, you may wish to begin rolling it now.
1. At the really tough jobs, smart and personable (to the right people) is almost always better than brilliant and difficult. Why? Because things will go wrong. Mistakes will be made. Errors will happen, they will happen on your watch, and they will be your fault.
Mostly, these errors won't correlate to your intelligence; indeed, given the complexity of the jobs y'all will be asked to perform, an incremental increase in intelligence is not gonna matter much. Rather, when all Hell breaks loose 'tis best to have stored up some goodwill with those who count; with luck, they'll barely even notice that you tanked the Wilson deal (or, better, they'll blame it on your brilliant-but-annoying colleague down the hall).
Subnote 1: Obviously, Chet wouldn't be Chet if he wasn't an asshole to someone -- the point is to pick the right assholees. Good Chets know the rules of the game, and know who they can ass-i-fy.
Subnote 2: From personal experience, and to the aspiring Chets out there: do not -- do not -- be an ass to the folks in the mail or copy room. It will come back to bite you, and you will go down. (This was my one masterstroke at my last job; I was so tight with the mailroom staff that I got invited to their "it's noon on Friday, who has the keg?" at-work celebration. My stuff was always on the top of the pile, and it never got screwed up [Unfortunately, I had to decline the invite to the kegger.])
2. Smart, liberal arts hipsters over-estimate the importance of being smart, liberal arts hipsters. This is understandable, and (I think) partially explains Alameida's confusion, who's judging smarts on the "are they smart like me" scale. Yet, when it comes to "success," having an intelligent opinion on Camus or Far StarBlazers or early Op Ivy or Uzbekistan is not. important. at. all. There are a few people who can parlay "fun at parties" or "good conversationalist" into a career, but, trust me: they ain't you. [UPDATE: I just realized that this last sentence could be taken as a really assholish comment to Alameida. Mea cupla; it wasn't intended as such. Blame it on my being a Chet-on-the-make. Having read your stuff, Alameida, I'm confident that you're brilliant at parties.]
3. Never underestimate the power of hard work. In fact, don't underestimate the power of just showing up. Intelligence is pretty damn common; ambition ain't. And there's no greater advantage than having the boss or an important client call you at three o'clock in the morning, and for you to be there to help them out. If climbing the Chet-ladder is your goal, smart-and-there beats brilliant-but-at-home every day of the week, and twice on Sunday. (Sometimes literally.)
4. Finally, success in business is really about taking risks. Hitting on sixteen. Doubling down. Contemplative types don't do all that well with risk, because risk seldom becomes more attractive after a hard night of worrying. Less-contemplative types -- the so-called "Chet" -- do much better. (This, truth be told, is probably keeping me out of the glorious halls of Chetdom. It's not much of a stretch to say that I get one good night's sleep out of about twenty. Fortunately for my career, it's mostly after-the-fact worrying: I've made the tough decision, but am utterly convinced that it was the wrong one or that I otherwise screwed up. Were it before-the-fact worrying -- i.e., paralysis -- I'd probably not have a job.)