There are primarily three traits we admire in people: physical beauty, physical prowess (such as an athlete, musician, or someone with a specific skill set), and intelligence. Of the three, intelligence is perhaps the most awe-inspiring and perhaps the easiest to fraudulently emulate. I think I can count on one hand the number of true geniuses I've met in my walk through life, but aside from this I have met some truly intelligent people whom I greatly respect. Interestingly, not all possess a formal education, yet they exhibit signs of intelligence I admire and rely on for advice.
Some people believe a person's vocabulary is a distinguishable characteristic of intelligence. It may be an indicator, but it is certainly not proof of intelligence. I have met far too many people who have a verbosity of bullshit cloaking other shortcomings in their personality. They may be able to speak well, but so can a parrot if trained properly.
There are those who believe intelligence is distinguished by a person's ability to absorb and recite facts. I have trouble with this notion as well. To my way of thinking, the person has nothing more than a good memory which any tape recorder or computer can duplicate.
To me, intelligence is the ability to apply logic towards solving a problem. Knowing facts and possessing an articulate vocabulary is nice, but knowing how to put it all together to solve a problem or achieve a goal is the real measure of intelligence. From this perspective, I have met a lot of people with basic street smarts who are far more intelligent than a lot of college professors or savants I know. In other words, I have more respect for a person who can think clearly for himself, than a person who can do nothing more than parrot facts and figures.
Sometimes we confuse intelligence with experience. Under this scenario, a person who has lived through many experiences, and learned from them, can pass this knowledge on to others who may perceive the person as brilliant. Probably the only thing "smart" here was that the person learned from the experience.
IQ scores don't necessarily impress me either. I remember a classmate in high school who allegedly had a high IQ score. I found it rather amusing that he failed the written portion of his driver's test on more than one occasion (I think he was looking for the meaning of life in a stop sign). I've also found a lot of people like this who simply want to be paid because they are smart, but don't know how to work productively. In other words, they may know a lot, but have trouble applying it. Those who are perceived as "witty" tend to fall into this category. Most are entertainers who have an aversion to real work.
To me, the real distinguishing characteristic of an intelligent person is someone who knows what they are doing, does it well, and can be counted on to deliver solutions and solve problems over and over again (reliability). I have also found they exhibit an insatiable curiosity about the world around them, not just a single area. As the Japanese like to say, such people think in terms of "360 degrees." In other words, they are always looking at the bigger picture.
"Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan 'Press On' has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race."
- Calvin Coolidge
Keep the Faith!
Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.
Tim Bryce is the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
For Tim's columns, see: