Tuesday, February 14, 2012

There is No Dumb

For a long time I have been struggling to communicate my thoughts on the idea that there is no such thing as "smart". The reason that I do not like the idea of "smart" is that it implies a dumb. As soon as you call someone dumb, they have lost. How does one come back from that?

I was walking down 3rd street here in Dubuque on my way to Monks (it's a coffeehouse and bar) and I finally realized after months of months of thinking how to redefine smart and dumb. People have different reasoning capabilities. In other words, instead of the smart to dumb scale being one dimensional there is a reasoning capabilities universe that is at least three dimensional but includes different things. For example, math and science are in one area, but emotional understanding is in a different area, and humility is in another area, and the capability to throw a 90mph curve ball yet another area. There must be hundreds or thousands of areas. Everybody is capable of having a number of these reasoning capabilities, and chances are they are in different proportions to everyone else. These reasoning capabilities makes up our personality and our abilities.

In the space I am imagining one can be the farthest possible distance from the center point of math and science that we think of as "smart" yet in this model there is no dumb. While one may have a lack of reasoning ability in a certain area that does not mean that that person has no reasoning ability in that area.

This is great stuff! I apologize if this is all just fluff to many of you but people have been calling me "smart" for most of my life and while I like they are recognizing my math and science and multiple input, multiple output understanding of primarily numeric systems, I have often felt that people do not appreciate other reasoning capabilities. In other words, I love getting cheered for my achievements, but I love to cheer others and celebrate other people's achievements, even if they are not in the same realm of reasoning as my own life's reasoning tasks. By the same token I do not particularly like the way that some reasoning capabilities are rewarded so highly. I feel that instead of recognizing single abilities, perhaps it would be more appropriate to reward combinations of abilities. For example, at my alma mater, WPI, there is a President's award for the IQP project. In short, it is typically an environmental or social engineering "competition" that everyone must take part in and ultimate success in the award depends on more than the technical project and includes presentation skills and communication. Similarly no start up company had funding because of a good idea alone, it takes skills to sell the idea and to organize it.

I was watching a CNBC special on Google a few months ago and one of the things that one early Google employee said was to the effect of, 'find the smartest people you can and work with or for them.' She was meaning Sergey and Larry. I read their paper this week and it got me thinking about the "smart" thing again. If you have not read the paper that Google was founded on, it's relatively simple, rather elegant, and a great insight into one of the largest technology companies in the world.

There is no smart, there is no dumb. Or at least if there is a smart there is no dumb but rather varying levels of smart and that is simply one reasoning capability amongst hundreds of reasoning capabilities.

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