All Kinds of Smart

This morning I was talking with one of my friends over a cup of coffee and he referred to a recent conversation he had with a “much smarter (than him) friend” about a particular issue. I considered his choice of words to be most interesting. And somewhat self-limiting. I wondered what made his friend so much smarter and why he thought that way. In what sense was the other guy smarter? Was he generally smarter or was his intelligence specific to a particular task, situation or conversation?

Sometimes, the difference between smart and stupid is a few inches. Put me in one conversation and I might appear to be moderately intelligent but take me to the other side of the room and put me in a different conversation with different people and I might be considerably less comfortable, confident and seemingly, intelligent.

That is, I might look like an idiot. 🙂

Some people have great mechanical intelligence (can build a space shuttle from scratch) but poor social intelligence (can’t hold a conversation). Others might typically score well on IQ tests (the most common intelligence assessment tool) but don’t know when, or how to, offer someone comfort, encouragement or support (poor emotional intelligence). Some will write profoundly beautiful music (creative intelligence) but struggle to resolve or complete simple day-to-day problems (practical intelligence).

My friend (the one I was chatting with) is a successful builder. A carpenter by trade. When I ask him technical questions regarding the renovations I’m about to do on my house (which is often), he needs to explain his answer three different ways before I actually understand what he’s talking about. It’s apparent that, as a handyman or tradesman, I’m a good speaker and writer. It’s been said that I’m as handy as an ashtray on a motorbike; which is why my five year-old tool set remains in its original box. Untouched.

Of course, this ineptitude may be a byproduct of me being only seventy percent male. Whatever the reason, it’s fair to say that, depending on the situation, conversation or task at hand, there are times when I can feel (and appear) a little stupid.

Or a lot.

Conversely, there are times when I have a different conversation with the same guy (maybe something to do with bodies rather than buildings), and I definitely feel (and possibly, appear) a little more intelligent.

Put a spanner in the hand of the university professor and ask her to adjust a bike chain and she might not seem so clever. Ask the computer genius to explain ‘the birds and the bees’ to his ten year-old son and he might need to default to his more emotionally intelligent wife. Ask the neurosurgeon to choose the best cushions and throw rugs to compliment his or her new couch and there might be an interesting, if not distasteful, result.

In many ways, all traditional intelligence testing tells us is how well some individuals complete certain types of written tests. At best, an IQ score provides us with a very limited insight into an individual’s potential and possibilities. Having said that, I’m of the (not very popular) opinion that putting a number on a person’s intelligence and potential is, more often than not, a stupid thing to do.

If not, potentially dangerous.

Yes folks; smart comes in all shapes and sizes.