Beyond Smart

May 28, 2020

http://www.paulgraham.com/smart.html

People frequently mistake Einstein's intelligence for the primary characteristic that distinguished him. His uniqueness, however, lay in his ability to generate significant new ideas. While intelligence is required, it is not the same thing. Many intelligent people do not make significant contributions or achievements.

Many of us thought that being smart was the ultimate goal when we were younger. When given the choice between being extremely intelligent without discovering anything new and being less intelligent but generating a large number of new ideas, the latter option is preferable. This is because we begin to recognize that coming up with new ideas is more valuable than simply being smart.

Even if we understand this intellectually, it can be unsettling because intelligence is often valued more in our society. This is due to the fact that intelligence is easier to measure and we are constantly judged by it from a young age. Furthermore, because new ideas are a relatively new phenomenon in human history, society has yet to fully appreciate their importance.

The question then becomes, why do some intelligent people fail to discover new things? Other factors must be at work in addition to intelligence. The exciting part is that many of these elements are developable. In contrast to intelligence, which is mostly inborn, these other ingredients give us more control over our lives and make them more interesting.

One of these ingredients is an obsessive interest in a particular topic. Another quality is independence. While these characteristics are largely inborn, they can be cultivated to some extent. Hard work, adequate sleep, stress management, having the right collaborators, and finding ways to work on what you're passionate about are also important ingredients. In essence, anything that can assist us in doing great work can lead to the discovery of new ideas.

Surprisingly, writing ability is also an important factor. Some ideas are best discovered through the creation of essays and books. This is due to the fact that writing is a form of thinking, and if you're not good at it or don't enjoy it, it can limit your ability to discover new ideas.

The gap between intelligence and new ideas is an intriguing topic to investigate. Instead of seeing it as a waste of potential, we can see it as an opportunity to better understand the discovery process. We can potentially make more significant contributions if we identify and cultivate the other ingredients that lead to new ideas.


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Written by Phong Tran who lives and works in Tokyo building useful things. You can follow him on Twitter

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