Intelligence gets you nowhere. Being right is as overrated as A-Rod.
That has, at least, been my impression of the world as we know it. I feel uplifted, therefore, that this view -- so often derided as cynical -- has now been confirmed by economists.
Large brains from as far apart as Chicago and the U.K.'s Essex (under the guise of the National Bureau of Economic Research) have concluded that the mere idea that nerds will have their revenge and soar like Shrek into money and love is just so much Hollywood bunkum.
I am indebted to The Atlantic for pointing me toward this research, which is portentously titled "Popularity."
The abstract poses a question that so many have posed themselves as hair begins to grow in unforeseen places and voices change as if manipulated by an "American Idol" producer: "What makes you popular at school? And what are the labor market returns to popularity?
If you're an economist (or the average American), success is measured through your offers and your coffers.
If you are financially desirable, then you are desirable in all other ways.
So, dear nerdy IT guys and engineers of various hues, please be ready to cry. For the abstract continues: "We estimate that moving from the 20th to 80th percentile of the high school popularity distribution yields a 10% wage premium nearly 40 years later.
Yes, social skills and sheer likability are the way to get ahead. How else do you think Kim Kardashian amassed her fortune?
Naturally, these economists would love to put numbers to the social skills in question. They conclude that some of this depends on "the role played by early family environment, school composition and school size on adolescent social engagement."
What it is to be pre-destined at puberty.
Though they feel they haven't quite got to the numerical bottom of what makes for a popular human, these economists insist: "Policies that focus on promoting integration in schools and on developing social competencies may be a fruitful way of promoting success in life."
You might be wondering how these boffins reached their conclusion. Well, they analyzed data from Wisconsin high school students. These students revealed who they felt were their three closest friends -- so-called "friendship nominations."
What seemed to have an economic effect was not how many friends you have (despite the ministrations of Facebook), but the number of times someone was nominated as being a close friend.
More Technically Incorrect
You might find some relief that only statistics from men were analyzed in this cheery piece of research.
However, one should also take the time to acknowledge the greatest art of the popular: faking it. The popular aren't popular because they genuinely love people or because they're genuinely lovely people. They're popular because they possess the talent to make you want to like them.
In corporations, you may find that those who you think are your friends would actually try to get you fired, if it helped their own career.
I cede the floor to the O'Jays who put this phenomenon artistically: "They smile in your face, all the time they want to take your place, the backstabbers." (I have embedded it for your next departmental meeting.)
That is often the biggest problem of the nerds. They are so wedded to the search for the real and the tangible that the idea of faking it doesn't cross their minds.