Sunday, April 13, 2014

What it means to be smart

I know a lot of super intelligent people who are idiots.

Heck, I act like an idiot a lot of the time.

Smart -- really smart -- is an aggregate of a bunch of things:

  • Intelligence -- Aptitude to get knowledge
  • Knowledge -- To simplify, let's just say it's information
  • Wisdom -- Doing something appropriate with knowledge
  • Action -- Acting on wisdom
It  takes all of this to be "smart" -- The aptitude to get tons of information, the tons of information, the wherewithal to know when/not (and how/not) to use that information, and the compulsion do something with that great power and responsibility.

I know hyper-intelligent people who are lazy. They are not smart.

I know people with tons of information who use it in useless ways, or in abusive ways, or are just generally an ass about what they think they know. They are not smart.

I know people who have the ability to change their world at a micro or macro level, but don't have the compulsion to do anything. At all. They are not smart.

And I'm not just talking about pervasive character flaws -- I'm talking about what people like me do, off and on, throughout our lives. Heck -- throughout my day.

And then there's a flaw we all have, where we think we're smarter than we really are.

Sure, intellectually, I know there's a bunch of someones out there that are smarter than me. But if that doesn't live with me, it's just intellectual knowledge that doesn't lead to personal growth.

And I'm talking about acknowledging there are smarter people in a healthy way, not in a "I'm not worth anything", false negative sense of my worth.

I surround myself with peers and mentors that I meet with on a weekly, monthly, and quarterly basis. We encourage and lift each other up and hold each other accountable -- which means calling each other out if we're acting arrogant, thinking too much of our gifts and talents, or otherwise behaving selfishly. Often times, that's about how smart we're being (or a false sense of intelligence, or an elitism, or a host of other character flaws or symptoms that indicate being out of whack with the reality of what it means to be smart, and to get smarter.

Here's a bit of litmus test I have (one of them; I have several) -- Do I find myself using the phrase, "Those people" in categorizing a group?

I don't mean just with race -- I mean with differing religious or political views, or people without domain expertise, or with people who say something that could be classified as "dumb" because they haven't had the exposure to the knowledge before.

(And while I could arguably add a fifth ingredient to "smart" -- "Opportunity" -- I'd argue there is so much information exposed to us wherever we are that we can't reach saturation. Again. Arguably.)

With myself and other "smart" people, I've heard versions of the phrase "those people" used. Not Smart.

When I look at the twelve smartest people I know, they're not just smart in aggregate -- They higher in Intelligence, AND Knowledge, AND Wisdom, AND Action. And eight of those twelve don't even have higher education degrees.

(And no, I don't come close to cracking the Smart Twelve.)

Oh, and so I don't forget -- Making sure I don't over value my smarts and/or don't giving people enough grace with theirs doesn't mean I'm a milktoast, and doesn't mean I don't call people out on their dumb crap.

But it means if I do, I better have cleaned up my house, too.

One of my favorite managers in the world used to try to get people to see what they needed to see to do their jobs, get on board with change that was going to happen regardless, and so on.

And if they didn't get there -- with spoonfuls of patient help -- he might ... lose it a bit.

"Do you want me to get some crayons and draw a ****ing map for you?"

He wasn't deriding intelligence, and he wasn't belittling the person -- But he was saying, "You should have been able to get there, and I helped you -- a lot -- and you're still not there. You better get there."

(Fortunately, I never had that phrase used on me. Though I probably deserved to have.)

(Dr. Doom and Data provided by Marvel. © 2014 Marvel)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great post, Adam. Encapsulates a lot of things that have been floating around in my brain for a while. Really enjoyed it.

Jason Y