The Curse of Being 'Brilliant'

I think one of the most over-used words in my profession is "brilliant." Like this new Supreme Court pick. It's a "brilliant choice" because John Roberts (search) is a "brilliant" judge and a "brilliant" thinker.

Well, I have a "brilliant" idea: Stop using the word, "brilliant."

Look, I don't know John Roberts at all. Certainly a guy who whizzes through Harvard undergrad and Harvard Law in record time isn't exactly a moron.

But "brilliant"?

Be careful. Calling anyone brilliant sets them up for failure.

They said Jimmy Carter (search) was brilliant. But he had a tough time impressing the world.

They said Ronald Reagan (search) definitely wasn't brilliant. But he changed the world.

Albert Einstein was so brilliant that he was weird. Jerry Lewis was so weird that he was brilliant.

You get my point? "Brilliant" can be your Achilles heel.

When Michael Eisner (search) took over Disney, he was brilliant. So much so, that his critics say he got arrogant. Then he wasn't brilliant. Then... he was gone.

Bernie Ebbers (search) was so brilliant that no one doubted him when he amassed an empire called WorldCom. Then the company went under and brilliant Bernie went to prison.

My dad used to say, "Neil, stay humble. In your case, it'll come in handy."

Which is why, I think I've avoided — dare I say "brilliantly" — ever being called "brilliant."

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