How are you intelligent?

Looking at ‘smart’ in a whole different way…

How are you intelligent?Ever wondered how smart you are? Traditionally intelligence has been understood as a single measure of ability that is largely set in stone from birth. In this conventional view, smart people have greater abilities and resources they can apply to any situation. The smarter you are, as often measured on an IQ test, the better you can handle anything in your path. Much research has supported this showing that people with high IQ’s did better in school, regardless of the subject, and over time this view has taken hold and shaped both our popular understanding of intelligence and our education system.

However, given that most traditional education draws on the same narrow range of performance that IQ tests measure, that correlation means little in understanding ‘smart’ in everyday life and work. Advances in neuropsychology, evolutionary biology, and child development show us that the ‘one-horse’ view that tends to dominate how we view intelligence is tragically flawed. Flawed, because it can’t account for performance outside of school, across the full range of human activity – intelligence as a chef, as an author, as an athlete, as a mother. The traditional view of intelligence is ill-fated, because we dampen human potential as long as we believe there is one linear scale of intelligence.

To find a better way to express human potential, Harvard education professor Howard Gardner spent years studying intelligence across disciplines and across cultures. He synthesized what he learned in his model of Multiple Intelligences (MI), and identified eight distinct intelligences:

  • Bodily-Kinaesthetic – Using your body with comfort and skill.
  • Interpersonal – Understanding and connecting with others.
  • Intrapersonal – Understanding yourself and managing your thoughts and emotions.
  • Logical-Mathematical – reasoning using math or logic.
  • Musical-Rhythmic – Making music or making sense of tone and rhythm.
  • Naturalist – Understanding processes in your environment.
  • Verbal-Linguistic – Reading, writing, speaking and listening.
  • Visual-Spatial – Conceiving and mentally manipulating images.

(Source: Howard Gardner, descriptions by Dario Nardi and Pam Fox Rolin)

This work changes how we can think about intelligence, from “how smart you are” to “how you are smart?” In this view, ‘smart’ means using the best of yourself to succeed in your environment.

The way you succeed is likely to be very different to the way someone else succeeds at the same task. Intelligences are typically used in combination, with distinctive combinations enabling different people to achieve similar results. For example, a top athlete will need highly developed Bodily-Kinaesthetic Intelligence; beyond this, some athletes may be powered by the inner drive of Intrapersonal Intelligence, others by the pacing of Musical-Rhythmic Intelligence (even in non-musical sports), and others by their application of Logical Mathematical Intelligence.

Take a few minutes to read through the different intelligences listed and identify how you are smart. Then begin to look at those around you with new eyes and try to identify how they are smart. Keep a note of your ‘strengths’, where you are smart, and begin to draw on these as you work toward a more successful and fulfilling personal and professional life.

Advanced tip: To take this new awareness to the next level, as you begin to look at both yourself and others with new eyes, try not to compare or measure yourself against them. I know it’s not easy as the old paradigm of ‘how intelligent are you’ has trained us all to compare ourselves in this way. However, the reality is much different. We have all developed our own range of different skills, strengths and abilities, and whilst ‘Person A’ might be better at maths, or science, or music than you, I’ll also bet that there are a bunch of things that you’re better than them at – so the comparing thing is really quite redundant at the end of the day. Even though it is a hard habit to break. Try and focus instead on how much you’ve developed the skills, strengths and abilities that your really want and need – and where you want to develop further next. Don’t worry so much about other people and how you compare, just focus instead on continuing to raise your own game so you are playing to the best of your ability  – in whatever arena of life or business that may be…

“We dampen human potential as long as we believe there is one linear scale of intelligence…”

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