May 24, 2011

(Adjective?) Intelligence

I've recently come to the conclusion that I'm not as smart as I thought I was.

In the past, I viewed people on a single-axis scale from dumb to brilliant. And that theory is falling apart, without a replacement. That's why I need your help.

I am a firm believer that the only way to get smarter is to surround yourself with people smarter than yourself. And in a mark of true arrogance, I have recently considered moving. After all, I have delusions of grandeur for my life, and I wanted to know if, by moving near a community of high-intensity thinkers, I would more quickly maximize my potential contribution.

But now that I am working in higher education, I am running into a whole new heap of brilliant people that are redefining my perception of what "smart" is. Because some of these people are absolutely brilliant. Yet, it's a completely different type of intelligence from my own - what I will temporarily label micro-intelligence. Not that their intelligence is limited to an individual specialty, but that they choose to harness their intellect in this way. They spend 16,000 hours of their life mastering the Greek written language, in order to gain insight into a single paragraph of a historical manuscript and shine a small but meaningful insight on the author's original intention. They sit in a lab all day long, every day for 20 years, documenting the generational effects of cancer in a single chromosome of fruit fly DNA. It's awe-inspiring. And I would be absolutely awful at both tasks.

I believe I possess, what I will temporarily label, macro-intelligence. A unique ability to see things broadly - to question the minutia by understanding the whole. It's why philosophy, psychology and behavioral economics are so interesting to me. It's why I work in marketing. I enjoy understanding human behavior. In fact, my interest lies in discovering the "Human Physics" equivalent of the 3 Natural Laws. A string theory for how the human world is designed to work most efficiently - socially, politically, relationally.

But, I don't know how many people think in this way, and how many "smart" people would be as bored investigating this as I would be learning Greek. I would venture that those like Malcolm Gladwell and Dan Ariely would be mentor figures in this community? But is this type of intelligence much more unique than I think? Is that why I often feel so intellectually isolated? And what if I move to Manhattan or Seattle in search for this intellectual community, and run into a world full of smart that isn't my kind of "smart"?

Help me out here. What kind of smart am I? And how can I get smarter?