If you’re inclined to buy into the often-repeated warning that only the college-educated person will be able to succeed in the future, you might want to read Rich Karlgaard‘s column in the latest edition of Forbes.
When academics use the word “smarts,” they usually mean general intelligence, or “g” for short. This is the ability to learn, think and apply. For decades scientists have sought to measure g by using IQ and similar cognitive tests.
But smarts is something different in the real world. It isn’t defined by 800 math SATs. It’s more about the importance of hard work, perseverance and resilience. Call it grit. Call it courage. Call it tenacity. Because these are old-fashioned concepts, they’re easy to miss. …
… This should be good news for most of us. We’re not limited or defined by the IQ we’ve inherited. Much of what makes us real-world smart comes from what we’ve learned–usually the hard way. Academics will say those things don’t technically define smarts. Fair enough. Effort and tenacity don’t directly align with the scientific definition of intelligence. But before dismissing this column’s definition of smarts, let me show you how grit leads directly to becoming smarter. This happens because grit results in an increased ability to learn more and adapt faster.
From the prenatal period to the end of our lives what shapes the neural circuits underlying our behavior is experience. This can include such uncontrollable influences as adversity, as well as such intentional influences as learning and training. The human brain displays amazing plasticity–the ability to modify neural connectivity and function–even into our 70s.
The smartest people in business are not those who have the highest g; they are those who regularly put themselves in situations requiring grit. These acts of courage accelerate learning through adaptation.