How Can I Be More Intelligent? by Maurice Gibbons
Since Howard Gardner proposed his theory of multiple intelligences, our ideas about mental abilities have changed radically. I.Q. no longer rules; it no longer sorts us into groups that will succeed or fail. Now we recognize the great diversity of achievement and the diverse forms of excellence in people that produces it. And from that new perspective, we can see many ways that we can all expand our intelligence.
What matters is applied intelligence. Your intelligence is not your ability to do a test; it’s your ability to get things done that matter.
Sternberg describes the three basic aspects of Successful Intelligence this way:
1. Analytical thinking: the ability to figure things out, solve problems, make decisions, and judge the quality of ideas.
2. Creative thinking: the ability to see possibilities, to identify the best among them, and to develop ways of pursuing them.
3. Practical application: the ability to understand situations, to know what to do, and to get the job done.
We have many great examples of applied intelligence in our culture, and I want to use one now to illustrate the steps that you will be using to develop yourself.
One of the best I know is the inspiring story of the Wright brothers’ struggle to solve the problem of powered flight. In it we see the importance of knowledge in achieving success, but in the most practical way possible.
Wilbur and Orville Wright attended high school but neither of them received a diploma. Together they opened a bicycle shop but soon decided that they needed a challenging enterprise.
They chose the problem of flight. Many people had tried, often to great fanfare, but all failed and in the end, the experts announced that powered flight was impossible.
The Wrights decided that it could be done and that they could do it. Wilbur read everything he could find on the subject, and conferred with experts from the Smithsonian and other institutions. They decided that the three main problems to solve were lift, power, and control.
Wilbur focused on control. The brothers built a wind tunnel to develop designs, especially for the shapes of the wings. They built gliders large enough to carry a person and spent weeks on the Carolina dunes testing them, improving them, and learning how to fly them. No one had flown before, so no one knew how to fly if they ever got into the air. The Wrights had to discover how.
Success at the Impossible
They had to learn how to turn their gliders by shifting their weight in a cradle-like seat in a movement that twisted the wings and swung the rudder. The cradle was inspired by the weight shift in turning a bicycle, and the rudder by the steering system in boats.
After more than 700 flights, they had an engine built and mounted it on their glider. In 1903, at Kitty Hawk, their flyer flew—the first powered flight in human history.
The bothers worked even harder after their initial flight seeking next to make a practical airplane that they could sell. By 1908 they were flying over 60 minutes at 40 miles an hour with a passenger and landing safely. They sold their planes and became world famous. Just over a hundred years later, we are planning flights to Mars.
I like this story because it is a great example of analytical, creative, and practical intelligence. The Wright’s may not have been brilliant in school, but they were very brilliant when it came to getting things done—impossible things. Proof again that there are many ways to be brilliant in the world.
Step One: Find a Topic That Interests You
The Wrights searched for a topic with both challenge and promise. After a search they chose flight, even though the experts said it was impossible.
You do not need to find an overwhelming challenge, nor do you need to change the course of human history, but it is important that you select topics that interest you and have value to you.
You will have many interests, so you might start with a list in your journal of subjects that you would like to know more about. I’m interested in the stock market, sculpture, learning, golf, personal health, movies and plays, and others.
From your list choose one to focus on now, one with grab and zing. I’m interested in how to run a green household, and the grab and zing of that topic is that I might develop an environmental program—“The Spirit Is Green”—and propose it to the church that I attend as a way to be practically spiritual.
What Is Your Topic?
What is your topic? And what is the grab and zing for you in that choice? Use your strength tracks as a guide (see “How Can I Find My Strengths”). To be smarter, you have to focus, have questions that you want to answer, and a strong shot of determination to keep going until you are satisfied with the answers you get.
Once you get deeper into your area of interest, find people to talk to about it. Start thinking about how you could use what you are finding out. If this area feels good it may be your field and you will become an expert in it.
Step Two: Analyze, Create, and Act
Sternberg’s three parts of intelligence come together in the Wright’s creation of a flying machine. They analyzed the problem of flight by reading everything they could find that had been written about it. They solved each of the problems with creative inventions such as building models and testing them in a wind tunnel. And then they took action--they built the plane and learned to fly it.
Now use the same strategies to study your interest. Find out about it. Decide what you can do with what you know. Then do it. If your interest is gambling, for example, find out about Blackjack (or any other game), then learn to play it, then get into a game. Knowing that you are going to play the game--just like knowing you are going to fly--pours energy into the other two stages.
This is route #1 to greater intelligence (I will produce others). Use this approach regularly and you will become more intelligent. You will be more capable, and you will become more interested in others as they will be more interested in you. Why? Because you are on the move!