Original question from Quora:

What is the difference between intelligence and common sense?

My Answer:

There is a vast difference between intelligence and common sense and it applies to most everyone who spends a little too much time reading Quora answers like this one…

Actually, you see it everywhere. It looks a lot like this:

In my field of software development, there is a fairly huge divide between those who are really good and those who aren’t. In fact, some people have labeled this difference The 10x Programmer.

What is a 10x Programmer? Well I’m glad you asked. The idea is there are some programmers who are seemingly 10 times more productive than other programmers. Either they get ten times more things done or they manage to solve hard problems ten times faster than other developers.

No matter how you look at it, they are describing a massive difference in skills and perceived output.

Given that many programmers have a similar background and training, why is there such a vast divide?

To me, it comes down to the difference between intelligence and common sense.

You see, the field of computer software is always changing. Every day there are something like 1,000 new things that are created and that you could learn about.

Actually, 1,000 seems like a low number. You can probably find far more new things to learn or that change than that.


The sheer vast amount of things you can learn is maddening and won’t ever end.

Now, this is fun if you like to learn new things. An intelligent person can be learning forever. Every day you can find dozens of new articles that are completely worth your time to read and learn from.

In fact, many very intelligent people spend days and days reading books, blog posts, and are constantly trying to keep up with the latest and greatest. They can spend their entire life learning about this stuff and never hit the end, or even a single digit percentage of what they could possibly learn.

Thus, there are some very intelligent software developers that know so many things about software development that it is quite impressive.

Those programmers aren’t 10x programmers. In fact, those who know the most about software development are often the least good at it.

I’ve worked with self-taught programmers all the way up to people with a masters or phd in computer science and I’ve never met a 10x programmer with a phd. Most of them are self-taught.

Self-taught programmers have something that the most intellectual programmers don’t.

It comes down to how they learn programming. Self-taught programmers tend to learn by building things. They learned how to code because they wanted to build something.

So, the way a self-taught programmer picks up more information is by reading just enough to solve a problem, then spending most of their time building stuff. It’s something like 5% time reading/learning and 95% time building stuff.

It’s far less intellectual, but it’s far more effective for building software.

Think about it, what is the real purpose of writing code? To build things!

What’s the best way to get good at building things? By building things!

“You learn more by motion than by meditation.” -Gary Halbert

It is true that you can learn by reading, but you learn so much more by doing it isn’t even close. The best software developers are good at building software because they have thousands of hours of practice building software.

The 10x Programmers very likely spend 10x more time writing software, so they get 10x better at writing software. That is common sense right?

Of course it is! Imagine in the story I just told was about playing basketball. You don’t learn how to play basketball by reading books about basketball. You have to PLAY basketball and PRACTICE shooting the basketball to get good at the game of basketball.

It’s the same with a lot of things right?

It’s easy to see with physical activities, but it’s much the same with what we perceive as “mental” activities too. You get good with practice.

I know you understand what I’m saying, and we must be in agreement because you have seen it for yourself.

The people who achieve the most have the common sense to practice the skills they need to win. The people who spend all their time in a purely intellectual pursuit are fools because they never learn to DO the thing they learn about.

About the only bigger fool than the pure intellectual is someone who does nothing. They are the least wise.

So, which kind of person do you want to be?


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