Strategy Talk

The Surprising Secret to Success: Why Being Smart is not the Same as Being Educated

Many people believe that success and intelligence go hand in hand. It’s often assumed that the more educated a person is, the smarter they must be. However, this correlation between education and intelligence is not always accurate. In fact, some of the most innovative and successful individuals in history were uneducated or had limited formal education. This blog post will explore the surprising secret to success – why being smart is not the same as being educated. We will delve into the role of education in stimulating creativity, the potential hindrance of education on thinking outside the box, and present examples of uneducated individuals who have achieved remarkable success through their innovative thinking. Finally, we will discuss strategies to balance education and creative thinking, embracing both to foster innovation.

Defining “being smart” and “education”

To understand why being smart is different from being educated, we must first define these terms. Being smart does not necessarily refer to one’s level of education or the number of degrees they hold. Instead, being smart can be seen as the ability to creatively solve problems, think critically, and adapt to different situations. On the other hand, education is the formal acquisition of knowledge and skills through structured learning environments such as schools, colleges, and universities.

The role of education in stimulating creativity

It is important to acknowledge that education plays a vital role in stimulating creativity. Through exposure to diverse perspectives, ideas, and concepts, education can broaden an individual’s horizons and inspire innovative thinking. In specialized fields like engineering or art, education provides the foundational knowledge and technical skills necessary for creative problem-solving. For example, a formal education in engineering equips individuals with the understanding of mathematical principles and scientific concepts required to design and develop innovative solutions.

The potential hindrance of education on “thinking outside the box”

While education can foster creativity, it can also be a hindrance to thinking outside the box. Highly structured educational systems often prioritize conformity and adherence to established rules and methodologies. This focus on rote learning and memorization can stifle the creative thinking process. Students are often expected to follow a set curriculum and rigidly adhere to predefined approaches, leaving little room for exploration or unconventional thinking. As a result, many individuals become accustomed to solving problems within the constraints of what they have learned, limiting their ability to think creatively and find innovative solutions.

The paradox of innovation: successes of the uneducated

It is fascinating to note that some of the greatest innovators in history were either uneducated or had limited formal education. These individuals, unburdened by the traditional constraints of education, approached problem-solving with fresh perspectives and unparalleled creativity. Take, for example, Thomas Edison, the inventor of the light bulb. Edison had only three months of formal education and described himself as “almost wholly self-educated.” His lack of formal education allowed him to approach problems with an open mind and experiment freely, ultimately leading to his groundbreaking inventions.

Another remarkable example is the renowned physicist and mathematician, Albert Einstein. Despite his immense contributions to the fields of physics and mathematics, Einstein struggled in the structured education system. He once said, “Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school.” Einstein’s unconventional and imaginative thinking paved the way for his revolutionary theories, challenging the established scientific norms of his time.

Balancing education and creativity

The key lies in striking a balance between education and creative thinking. It is crucial to bridge the gap between formal education and fostering innovation. Embracing both can lead to powerful breakthroughs and advancements in various fields. Here are a few strategies to encourage innovative thinking within traditional educational systems:

  • Promote interdisciplinary learning: Encourage students to explore different disciplines and find connections between them. This approach can help broaden their perspectives and inspire innovative problem-solving.
  • Encourage experimentation and risk-taking: Create an environment that supports trial and error. Encourage students to take risks, learn from failures, and embrace their creativity without the fear of being wrong.
  • Foster collaboration and diversity: Cultivate an inclusive environment that values diverse viewpoints and encourages collaboration. When individuals from different backgrounds come together, their unique perspectives and experiences can fuel creativity and innovation.


The journey to success is a dynamic fusion of intellect and education. While education can certainly act as a catalyst for creativity and offer a solid foundation, it’s vital to recognize that unbridled innovation often springs from unconventional minds. History bears witness to countless uneducated trailblazers who’ve reshaped the world. So, in the pursuit of innovation, it’s paramount to harmonize the power of education with the force of creative thinking.

To embark on this enriching journey of innovation and explore the boundless frontiers of inventive thought, we invite you to join our “Innovation Mastermind” community. Here, like-minded visionaries from diverse backgrounds converge, armed with the tools and collaborative opportunities needed to transform their boldest ideas into impactful realities. Join us in this adventure, where innovation knows no bounds!

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Emmanuel Setyawan

A Strategyzer coach and Blue Ocean Strategy Australia consultant, Emmanuel brings remote delivery and time-proven, case study backed frameworks to remote strategy coaching and facilitation while helping customers create new or improve existing business models, design value propositions that capture new market or untapped needs and create a new way to generate revenue streams. Contact Accolade Coaching now and let Emmanuel help you work on your innovation strategy.