What Does it mean to be ‘Smart’?

Please take a little time to read this article from Fast company, first published a few months ago: Fast Company Article – Too Smart for Your Own Good

There are a number of levels on which I want to disagree strongly with this article and to suggest that some of the underlying assumptions on which it is based are not only wrong, but dangerous and unhealthy.

When an article like this is published in a top business publication, then we don’t need to look to far to know why we are in trouble in the educational field. The first, starting assumption that underlies the story is that intelligence/ smartness/ IQ (used interchangeably by the writer) are inherently innate, fixed and ‘you either have it or you don’t’.

As was made very clear by Dr Carol Dweck in her book, ‘Mindset‘ and in many recent works on the mind, intelligence and learning – intelligence is not a fixed commodity, but is actually highly flexible and ‘growable’ (even when we are talking about it in the purely IQ sense rather than Dr Howard Gardner’s concept of Multiple Intelligences).

So, the first basis on which we need to challenge the writer of this article is that there isn’t somehow someone in the room who by some quirk of nature has a higher IQ/ intelligence than everyone else in the room.

Then, going beyond this, we come to a point I find even more troubling – when we say that one person in the room is ‘smarter’ than everyone else, keeping in mind the growth mindset, then by my reckoning we are saying there is someone who has put more effort in to being more knowledgeable, doing more research, getting to a position through training his/ her mind to be able to use it more effectively. In such circumstances, what right does anyone have to tell that person that they must somehow ‘hide their light under a bushel’?

Does anyone tell Ussain Bolt to run slower, so as to not embarrass his competitors or make them feel uncomfortable? Did anyone tell Einstein to pipe down, keep all his cleverness to himself and ‘dumb down so that those who had put in less effort or had been less effective in developing their minds would not be made uncomfortable?

To me, this advice is a recipe for mediocrity and under-achievement. I’m sure that any company CEO or organization head would feel terribly disturbed and disillusioned that their best minds are being gagged and made to ‘pretend’ somehow that they are less capable than they really are. We’ve all worked in organizations where there were people who somehow ‘got away with’ the minimum amount of effort, came to meetings ill-prepared and yet still spoke and expected to be heard and listened to. This article appears to be in defense of such people as if the protection of their right to ‘wing it’ is all important.

Yes, I acknowledge fully that we all have to work in teams and need good working relations with others to achieve meaningful, good work. However, to suggest that somehow the best performers, those with the best contributions must somehow mask and conceal their abilities is not something I can feel comfortable with.

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