Why some smart people don't take action?

By Rajesh Setty | Published on:

Why some smart people don’t take action?

I mean “action” that will lift them to a whole new level in life and in business.

This is a question that has haunted me for a while. I meet so many smart people during my travels and speaking engagements. when I hear what these people are involved with and think about what they “could be” actually involved with, it is not difficult to see the “gap.” They could be doing much more but it seemed like they have resigned to be just “good.”

When I get close to some of them, I openly discuss this and honestly, it is not news to them. They know that they are not living up to their full potential. They are aware of that. Some of them say that “soon” they will make a change.

I kept thinking about this “gap” and wondering about the reasons for just doing “good work” when they could be doing “great work.” Why limit the contributions to making a difference to a dozen people when they could make a difference to a thousand people?

The reasons for this seemed like:

  • They were waiting for the right opportunity
  • They had obligations that they had to fulfill before they take on big challenges
  • They had personal or family reasons beyond work
  • They were simply happy with what they were doing
  • They were not aware of their true potential
  • They had become comfortable with their present situation and didn’t like change
    and so on..

Valid reasons but I was not satisfied with any one or combination of them. They were true for a specific case but I could not find a more generic reason for inaction.

Last month, when I was reviewing  my notes from a few meetings over the years, the reason became clear.

It was not ONE reason but there was a complex system at play contributing to the inaction. Let me explain it the best way I can.

Here is the quick summary:

Most smart people want to make a BIG difference. But they don’t think they are ready to take that plunge to live their dream. They don’t want to raise the stakes (by quitting their job, investing in something, joining a movement) yet until they are ready. They keep discovering that something else needs to happen before they raise the stakes. The more they wait, the higher their current obligations making it more complicated to raise the stakes. So on one end, they keep discovering that there is so much more to know “before they are ready” to take the plunge and on the other end, the stakes are low for them to take any action to make a change.

Let us look at this in a bit more detail

Whatever someone pursues (an idea) the step before taking action is to build the “capacity to take action.” Smart people know that they need to build that capacity first before they take action.

When they start building their “capacity” they make up a “threshold of capacity” required before they can take any serious action. After that they start building that capacity ( capacity for example may be some skills such as marketing or sales or they might think they need “X” dollars and “Y” strong connections) and being smart they quickly realize the gap between “their current capacity” and the “threshold of capacity” required to take action.

They make take several actions to build that capacity. Their efforts may include attending a course like an MBA. They act in their own way but always to build capacity so that ONE day they are READY to take that necessary action (the Plunge.)

Over this time, they realize that the threshold capacity is higher than what they originally envisaged. The gap is probably bigger than their original estimate. They need to work hard to get to that threshold capacity.

Over the next few years, they aggressively work on increasing their personal capacity and as they learn more about themselves and also about the world around them, they realize that to guarantee their success, they need to increase their threshold of capacity” to an even higher level. The gap between their “personal capacity” and the “capacity threshold” further increases.

The quest to “get ready” continues.

While their capacity expansion continues, they have ensured that they are “safe” – meaning the stakes were “low” for them to take any action. There is really nothing they would have “lost” (at least in the short-term) by NOT taking any action. They were doing well in their current jobs or in whatever they are doing. They were “above average” from the society standards and they needed a really good reason or two to do anything different. The stakes were low to make a significant change.

But they do want to change. Yes, as soon as their personal capacity matches the “capacity threshold” that they have identified to take the plunge.

Unfortunately their own “smartness” contributes to the continuous expansion of the “capacity threshold” before they take the next plunge.

REQUEST: If you know of someone super smart in your life that is on the fence, please send them a link to this article. Or, if you know many smart people, simply share the article via one of the social networks. Just increasing the awareness helps people to get out of their “stuck” state.


You may also be interested in other mini-research outcomes:

Here are the outcomes of the previous mini-research initiatives:

1. Why some smart people are reluctant to share? (Dec 26, 2009)

2. Why nice people will win BIG TIME in the long run? (Jan 15, 2010)

Rajesh is a frequent speaker at conferences and companies on
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