What is Smart?

Let’s put a poisonous, human-potential-stifling myth to rest…

Contrary to the IQ fundamentalist view— that intelligence is biologically-determined and fixed over time— all reputable research shows that intelligence is adaptable and expandable with the right kind of experience and the right kind of effort. In other words, if your brain is used the right way and exposed to the right stuff, you get smarter in the broadest sense of the word.

The you-either-have-it-or-you-don’t school views intelligence in very narrow terms (with a strong bias towards analytical skills that are readily measured using things such as an IQ test)—and ignores (or rejects) the crucially important fact that human beings also have something called agency.

Agency means that we can play an active role in the learning process—by seeking, evaluating, constructing, and applying knowledge. Analytical skills are important, but so are many character traits (do we dare call them talents?)—things such as curiosity, honesty, creativity, conviction, good humor, imagination, perseverance, passion, empathy, courage, resilience, and devotion—to name but a few.

In this broader view, intelligence is not some fixed, measurable quantity, but is the eminently human process of interacting with and influencing one’s world. In this view, an intelligent person is the master of, not a slave to, their intellect—using it as just one tool of many in service to their authentic dreams. In this view, it’s not about how “smart” your brain is; it’s about what you choose to do with the brain you’ve got.

As such, there can be no single definition of “success” and therefore no single way to define or measure “smart”. And so, the most authentic measure of intelligence is the degree to which one is successful at living a uniquely examined and meaningful life.

2 thoughts on “What is Smart?

  1. Absolutely agree Frank. As I like to say: I don’t consider myself particularly smart, just highly motivated and persistent. I don’t have much in the way of natural talent. I also like this quote:

    Art is made by ordinary people.
    Even talent is rarely distinguishable,
    over the long run, from perseverance
    and lots of hard work.
    (David Bayles & Ted Orland)

    1. Appreciate the resonance, David. And thanks for the quote.
      Alas, I fear that most people quit before even trying.
      I, too, put myself in the same category as you: motivated & persistent.
      Keep ’em comin’, mate.
      All the best.

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