How to Appear Smart

You will probably read this and tell me I’m oversimplifying things, but what I am going to say is what I believe to be true. This is based on my interactions with many people over the years, and most, if not all, that know me describe me as pretty smart. Not to toot my own horn but, y’know… 

In my opinion, coming off as clever comes down to a few abilities that are easy to pick up.

Read. And be persistent.

Most of the directions are there; you only need to follow them. It is easy to get overwhelmed, but don’t think anything is beyond you. 

Many electronics come with directions for setting them up. Your computer has a search function that will bring you to the setting you need to fix whatever is going on with it.

If knowledge is power, you have more power than anyone who lived over 100 years ago. Yes, I am talking about your ability to google things on the Internet. 

Learn how to ask the right questions. But even this gets easier over time. Sometimes, you have to ask a lot of the wrong questions first. Just don’t get daunted.

Be curious. 

So curious and add a dash of bravery. Sometimes, you just press buttons and find what works. 

I remember hearing a story about someone who, when they were a kid and the family bought their first VCR, they pressed every button to find out what they did. It hit me that I was that kid! It all stems from whatever the logic is behind that.

Whenever I see the time is out on a microwave, it’s a fun little thing to program the time back into it. It’s usually different but pretty much the same. You do this enough with computers or formulas in Google Sheets that knowledge transfers to whatever you do next.

My grandpa was amazing when it came to fixing airplanes. His mechanical ability transferred to fixing cars. Anything. But he would be incredibly intimidated around a computer. For some reason, a Graphic User Interface terrified him. Beyond playing solitaire, he was useless on his Gateway. After showing him how to use AOL, he could use his email, but that was about it. 

As a teenager, I couldn’t understand how this genius at anything mechanical would fall short on some software. But I think he thought he would break something. I wasn’t afraid to.

Don’t be afraid to take things back to basics. 

You can’t be afraid to ask a lot of seemingly dumb questions.

Recently I was approached because a “printer wasn’t working.” If you were watching, it might appear that I was an idiot asking stupid questions. I was TOLD that the envelope they were printing on was a specific size. The printer would print once and then jam. Without anything to go on, I googled the letter’s dimensions and measured the letter we were printing on. Seeing they were different, I asked for the envelope box. From there, it was pretty easy to see the printer settings off. If I were really smart, I would have asked for the box originally. Start from the first step.

While in tech support, I always began the phone call by cycling the power. You can’t even assume people knew how to do that because they would tell me they had a computer turned off, but the light would still be on.

They see you as a genius whenever the printer prints correctly or the computer works. It never fails.

Work on your memory.

So this is more of a skill. But one that can be exercised and strengthened like a muscle. Long ago, we had to remember phone numbers. To call from pay phones or whatever. Or you would be given directions, “Take a left at the old hickory tree, and in three miles, hang a right at the stump, and you can’t miss it.” 

We have phones with numbers programmed in and apps to give us directions. You don’t have to lean on memory quite as much anymore. However, I still try to think of people and remember their birthdays. I learned to say the alphabet backward and practice that. You can do a lot to keep your mind active, which will shock those around you.

Along with reading, googling, and being curious, I kill at Jeopardy.

Being able to recall innocuous events from years past comes in handy, but it also helps you retain the ability to recall innocuous events from years past.

Stay creative.

You were good at this as a kid, but somehow it went away. But much of this is just letting your brain build a bridge from one subject to the next. 

Sometimes you have a connection from a first subject to a second and a second to a third and can associate the first to the third without having to be told the middle. In comedy, this is called A to C. 

I often get called out for making “dad jokes,” but they are me putting together connections and keeping my mind limber.

So, yeah…

If appearing to be smart is something you strive for, these would be my tips.

My wife has referred to me as Kung Fu Panda due to my ability to pick things up quickly, but that is just knowing if it has been done by someone else, I’m confident I can as well.

Really, if an idiot like me can do it, you can too!

By Sam Watson

I'm pretty good at Microsoft Excel but a freak in Google Sheets.

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Chris Ball
Chris Ball
1 year ago

Outstanding read, reactions and reminders…thank you!

1 year ago

I agree… When it comes to learning new things and/or fixing stuff, I usually say “I’m not afraid to break things”

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