My friend Stever Robbins (the Get-It-Done guy) commented recently on how weird it is to hear motivational speakers talk about how they can help you become a genius -- and yet, having gone to MIT, he and I know many people with degrees of genius far beyond these speakers conceptions of it. Nobel laureates, McArthur Foundation grant recipients, people who founded entire fields, people who started entire industries.
This, and some of the comments he received, got me thinking about the nature of what we think of as intelligence, as genius. While some of it is some mysterious property of certain people's brains, I think a lot of it is not nearly as mysterious as it seems.
I think a lot of what we label intelligence IS confidence -- confidence in one's ability to learn new stuff. And another big chunk of it is simply the acquired skill of skill acquisition! And still another chunk is the sort of patience that gets you through the skill acquisition process.
If this isn't coupled with a degree of humility, and awareness that one can err, it leads to arrogance.
Sometimes, to get things done, you have to proceed as though you know what you're doing. Some people find that arrogance suffices for this, and it reinforces their arrogance. I find the human and intellectual costs unacceptable.
I have a slogan: I hate to be wrong. So if I'm wrong -- or even if you suspect I'm wrong -- please point it out as quickly as possible, so I can be wrong for as little time as possible!
It's served me well over the years. Perhaps it's arrogant to think so, but I don't believe I'm arrogant. I'm occasionally accused of arrogance, but I usually find that coming from people uncomfortable with the idea that someone might know something they don't Or perhaps they really meant that I'm long winded, or simply that they're tired of reading what I write -- far more accurate charges.
The thing is, arrogance gets in the way of learning. Arrogance in scientists is just stupid.
What I've found works better is simply to risk being wrong. Do what you can to avoid it -- I often pause in the middle of posts to do fact checking, and often abandon or redo posts as a result of things I didn't even suspect I didn't know or were wrong about.
But once you've done that, put it out there. If you're wrong, someone will let you know. Do what you can to encourage that, and set a civil tone when it does happen. Even if they're not, and even if they're wrong, because you want to encourage the next guy.
Anyway, I'm demonstrating the long-winded part by wandering a bit off topic. just a bit -- the tie in is that intelligence isn't nearly as important as learning. Not education -- that's a narrow thing. Fully-engaged in learning about whatever it is you do.
I started dispensing advice about Android programming within about a month of doing it. I built on what I already knew, and focused on subareas I'd already mastered.
It's easy to appear smarter than you are, especially on the Internet. Just avoid the areas you don't know anything about -- and speak up about the ones you do.
A surprising number of people have that backwards. They ask stupid questions (a stupid question is one you haven't even bothered to think about -- ones that deserve a link to http://lmgtfy.com -- if you make past that point, it's no longer a stupid question)
They make stupid statements. Heckle, deride, call names.
Yet I bet every one of these people is knowledgeable about SOMETHING, even if it's their own personal struggle with depression or hostility. Whatever it is, no matter how trivial, they'll seem a lot smarter if they were to focus on what they do know.
So the bottom line is: Pick things you know. Build on that knowledge. Always seek to learn more. Never assume you've learned it all. Do your homework, but then risk being wrong -- and try to detect it and learn from it early. Learn from your mistakes as quickly as possible so you can make brand new ones.
And finally -- share your knowledge. You learn so much more.