You are not the smartest person in the room. No-one is.

Hi folks! Just a short post this time: I had a rare moment of inspiration (usually writing’s just manual labor instead), and I want to make the most of it before it passes.

Today’s topic: intelligence.

Don’t take advice from strangers in the Internet

Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the last ten years, you’ve certainly seen the smartest-person-in-the-room quote. The one telling you to leave, ring any bells?

Well, here’s my take: if you ever find yourself in that situation, you’re an arrogant prick. You’re not the “smartest” person in the room. You’re simply wrong.

Notice the quotation marks around the word smart? They are there for a reason.

What are smarts, after all

This car is smart.

Smartness is a very, very vague term. Even intelligence, despite its scientific echo, isn’t too easily defined, and contains several sub-categories.

For example, most IQ tests (online and paper alike) mainly feature questions of the fill-in-the-next-shape type. Like being able to figure out that pentagon follows a triangle and a square. Being able to do that sound like a good reason to change rooms?

However, some other tests also have a language section. Like figuring out which word belongs or does not belong to a group of other words. Or what is implied by a particular sentence.

Curiously, I never do very well in the shape-thingie tests. By contrast, I’m reaaally good at the language parts, usually finishing way before the time limit and wondering what’s taking everyone so long. And yet, I’m only a mediocre writer at best, and make my living with maths and programming. So figure that out.

And those two – language and shape-focused logical reasoning – are only two very specific subsets of something called intelligence. Which is already a fairly limiting notion.

By contrast, smartness, especially in everyday use, can mean pretty much everything. Heard of someone being street-smart?

And then we have other desirable qualities, that yet cannot really be labelled under smartness. Like being a good parent, or a good partner. It’s rarely described as being smart, right?

And then we also have some everyday skills, like talking to people or not having pizza for lunch third time in a row.

And then the list goes on and on. There are a million aspects to life, and all of them matter.

What to do instead

Still feel like the “smartest” person in the room? You are not.

Your IQ (or some other manifestation of your logical reasoning capability) might be the highest around, alright. Use that to figure out what you could learn from the others.

The results should surprise you. If they don’t, you’re doing it wrong. Stupid.


-Antti


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Of Intelligence, and Arrogance

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