EY's observations about the particular meeting he attended sound reasonable (I've been to similar meetings), but the group was highly selected and it's his only window into the business world. The people he describes are the elite in the world of innovation -- they, and their companies, Create the next generation of technology. But they are not typical of the richest and most powerful people in the world (see further below).
... I was invited once to a gathering of the mid-level power elite, where around half the attendees were "CEO of something" - mostly technology companies, but occasionally "something" was a public company or a sizable hedge fund. I was expecting to be the youngest person there, but it turned out that my age wasn't unusual - there were several accomplished individuals who were younger. This was the point at which I realized that my child prodigy license had officially completely expired.
Now, admittedly, this was a closed conference run by people clueful enough to think "Let's invite Eliezer Yudkowsky" even though I'm not a CEO. So this was an incredibly cherry-picked sample. Even so...
Even so, these people of the Power Elite were visibly much smarter than average mortals. In conversation they spoke quickly, sensibly, and by and large intelligently. When talk turned to deep and difficult topics, they understood faster, made fewer mistakes, were readier to adopt others' suggestions.
No, even worse than that, much worse than that: these CEOs and CTOs and hedge-fund traders, these folk of the mid-level power elite, seemed happier and more alive.
This, I suspect, is one of those truths so horrible that you can't talk about it in public. This is something that reporters must not write about, when they visit gatherings of the power elite.
Because the last news your readers want to hear, is that this person who is wealthier than you, is also smarter, happier, and not a bad person morally. Your reader would much rather read about how these folks are overworked to the bone or suffering from existential ennui. Failing that, your readers want to hear how the upper echelons got there by cheating, or at least smarming their way to the top. If you said anything as hideous as, "They seem more alive," you'd get lynched.
The comment below on EY's post (not written by me) is, in my judgement, a more accurate description of the business (and political) elite as a whole. It describes the Rulers -- people who run the world on a day to day basis. (I doubt EY would have been nearly as impressed by these people -- they fit his original stereotype of business executives.) The Creators and the Rulers are two partially disjoint groups within the elite.
I went to Harvard Business School, a self-styled pantheon for the business elite.
The average person was:
- top decile intellect (though probably not higher)
- top decile emotional intelligence (broadly construed - socially aware, self-aware, persuasion skills, etc.)
- highly conscientious / motivated
Few were truly brilliant intellectually. Few were academically distinguished (plenty of good ivy league degrees, but very few brilliant mathematical minds, etc.).
A good number will be at Davos in 20 years time.
Performance beyond a certain level in the vast majority of fields (and business is certainly one of them) is principally a function of having no cognitive and personal qualities which fall below a (high, but not insanely high) hygene threshold -- and then multiplied by determination, of course.
Conscientiousness, in fact, is the best single stable predictor of job success for complex jobs (well established in personality psychometrics).
Very high intelligence actually negatively correlates with career success (Kotter), probably because smart people enjoy solving problems, rather than making money selling things -- which outside of quant trading, show business and sport is really the only way of being really successful.
There are some extremely intelligent people in business (by which I mean high IQ, not just wise or experienced), but you tend to find them in the corners of the business landscape with the richest intellectual pastures: some areas of law, venture capital, some cutting edge technology fields.
Steve Ballmer - for instance - might deafen you, but he would not dazzle you.
To be precise, the Rulers are not just the most driven among the group described above, but also the luckiest. The Creators are actually drawn from a smaller population than the Rulers. In the world of Creators the ability threshold is higher and the volatility, although significant, is not as large as for HBS types trying to claw / smarm / cheat their way to the top.
In response to comments, further clarification:
Success in the Creator segment of the elite is more highly correlated with specific, observable capabilities like brainpower or creativity. A startup founder (or entrepreneur) has to have actually had (or at least recognized) a good idea and then, perhaps with help of team, implemented it. There is noise (luck), but signal to noise is not hopelessly small.
In comparison, I think the selection of Rulers from the population of people who, e.g., are admitted to HBS, has a significantly larger stochastic component, so that, when you actually meet one of the Rulers, they tend to resemble the HBS population as a whole (they are the subset who won the lottery), as opposed to a sub-population that has been further selected for ability (e.g., the smartest or most charming or most determined HBS people). If the stochastic component dominates, the most successful ones will resemble the average (you can't directly detect that they are actually the "most lucky" HBS people), not a particular tail. I am more familiar with the Creator population, but have met plenty of Rulers (typically, MBAs who have climbed the ladder within a big organization and are now at or near the top), and my impressions seem to confirm the model I described above -- there are more supermen among the Creators, and more boring suits among the Rulers. However, as the commenter above notes, there ARE areas in business where you tend to find higher concentrations of supermen. Perhaps you could say that those are areas of business where there is a well-functioning meritocracy, or special abilities really matter.