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Wally Bock

The emphasis on "smart" has always bothered me. Like many, I was tagged early as "smart." My mother, wise about so many things, reminded me constantly, "That's nothing to be proud of. God gave you brains. What you do with them is up to you."

I've also thought for years that praising young people for being "smart" pushes them toward being more likely to be risk averse. If your value is tied up in smart, then anything you try and fail at calls that judgement into question.

At Sonoco Products, based in Hartsville SC, they did quite well by mostly hiring young men from small Southern towns who had one other thing in common. They had turnaround experiences.

The young man had been in college, for example, and not doing too well. Suddenly his grades improved. Or he took a semester off to work construction and when he returned he was a better student.

A retired senior exec from there told me that the turnaround was crucial because, "There are a lot of people, including really bright ones, who never accomplish anything. We wanted people who would accomplish things."


Steve -

I think what we frequently define as "smart" could be better thought of as "latent talent" because smart is just a sign that something is there that could be useful. A marker if you will. If we all thought of what we have as latent talent (or some better phrase) we might lay down our preconceive notions earlier and get down to taking actions to release that talent. That takes a manager out of thinking "why don't my smart people succeed" into "what do I have to do to release what is there"; and the employee has a similar developmental task. This mode of thought might make us less passive (i.e., we hired smart and we're done/I am smart I am done) and more active along a dimension of understanding what is there and how to best use it. Most of the people that get hired are smart, at least smart enough for the tasks at hand ... but you rightly point out that is not enough (neither for the employer or the employee) and it is only the beginning. There is a lot to be added and it is going to take time, effort, understanding to reach great performance - and it has to be a dance that takes in both sides not just the employee being coachable or willing to learn. Sometimes the employee can't learn because there are too many obstacles or there is no one there willing to share the knowledge.

I think that at best people sort of fit a job or position, and frequently, to our disadvantage, we don't let that into our thinking, which maybe causes our actions to go astray - both employee and employer. Let's say you could have a cartoon bubble above the heads of three people (CEO, manager, and staff) thinking about the manager's position and what it entails. In each of those bubbles was pictures and/or descriptions of the job/position. And let's further assume that everyone had "surround sound thinking" so they could see the job completely from many angles. The three bubbles would each have such different pictures and descriptions that it would be astonishing. And to me herein lies much of the difficulty of defining what to do with people: there are so many dimensions to consider and everyone sees them differently and you have to mesh what are most likely at best latent talents and skills to the job. In some jobs this is easier than in others but the dance is still there and with a lot of positions/jobs there is a constant shuffling and shifting of what is required to complete the tasks at hand. I know that in the course of day I move from technician to coach to diagnostician to coordinator to regulatory/compliance manager to stand-in for Betty who is on vacation and so forth - and each draws on different aspects of me. Some of these things I do well and some less so but I have to blend what I do to fit what is needed as best I can. As you mention in your post "But (S)he's So Intelligent" what it took is some serious work (by all parties involved) on understanding and releasing preconceived notions of (a) what the company really needed, (b) what the person was really capable of doing, and (c) laying aside of ego on all sides to make it all fit together to get great performance.

It is a frothy brew.

Again enjoyed the post.

peter vajda

Interesting post Steve, and great comments. Thanks to all.

To split an (academic) hair, I feel there's a great divide between "smart" (meaning "schooled") and educated.

True, the best and the brightest (read: highest GPAs, etc.) are the first chosen...but often find themselves up agaist the proverbial 8-ball when work requirements demand more than "smarts", i.e., emotional maturity, well-honed interpersonal skills, and a self-awareness that points to humility, and to a people- rather than a task-orientation to life at work, and a supportive team mindset.

Many of the best and the brightest (i.e., well-educated) are challenged by change when change requires one to move out of one's intellectual, technical and emotional zip codes.

There is no direct relationship betwen IQ and EQ. This is often born out by the fact that the higher one moves up the food chain, personal issues are often the cause of derailment, not lack of techical skills, or "smarts".

There's the book of "school" and the book of the "world". More often than not, the best and the brightest seem to only open and read the former.

Schooled (IQ), not educated (EQ).

Jim Stroup

Your 3-point definition is the key - a smart person is willing to consider the possibility that he or she doesn't already have the answer.

Excellent post, Steve. There should be more writing to explore this topic.

Steve Roesler

Hello, All!

Wow, you guys have already bumped up the conversation and taken it in a direction it needs to go. What do you say I try and synthesize everybody's good "stuff" and bang out a follow up post?

Since everyone who commented is very experienced, the depth and breadth reflected here is really the kind of thinking that would serve organizations well.

Oh. I'm banging this out during a brief break in the midst of draining and cleaning a fish pond. About 1800 gallons.

Here's what I have learned:

1. Whatever street smarts I may have do not translate directly into pond smarts.

2. What I thought was a fish pond appears, when drained, to be a really icky compost heap.

3. I should have hired a bunch of 16 year-olds and given them directions from a lounge chair while enjoying a cigar and a refreshment.

4. Hmm. After looking at the above, apparently I don't have any street smarts, either.

5. In order to compensate for the discovery in number 4, I'm now going to do the second half of #3.

Have a super day!

Galba Bright of Tune up your EQ

Hello Steve:

Peter's observation that many a career is derailed by emotion related issues is backed up by the Center for Creative Leadership Study that showed that 75% of the reasons for career derailment arise from emotional intelligence issues, for example, poor interpersonal skills, not being a team player and difficulties in handling change.

A stellar IQ will not insulate any of us from these risks.

We are well advised as you suggest, Steve, to seriously consider the notion of multiple intelligence, so we re-frame the issue away from "how smart are you?" (in other words, what is your IQ?) towards "how are you smart?" The latter question gives us a better understanding of what's required to be effective in a particular job. This approach will encompass emotional intelligence.

IQ measurements have been around for a long time and they have the benefit of being simple to apply. One score settles all the issues and it can be a convenient tool. Practitioners need to decide whether they want to hire exceptional performers, and if so, this approach is going to produce exceptional performers.

I believe that a reliance on IQ is misplaced.I have worked with clients to help them get a rounded view of the candidate to understand how they are smart. This approach can include behavioural interviews, psychometric assessments, EQ assessments and other relevant assessment exercises role plays.

There are challenges for practitioners who are advocates of multiple intelligence to document and lay out the case for a new approach. It's good to see a conversation like this, because it can only help businesses to be more effective in the long run.

Steve Roesler


Indeed, the "How are you smart" question gets to the heart of multiple intelligences.

As for IQ: mine is high and I was always great on standardized tests. But I didn't figure out until adulthood how to actually learn and contribute. I knew something wasn't right and ultimately had to figure out what it was.

Teachers and family were content to cite the test scores and declare victory. This is the kind of thinking that we need to influence in order to genuinely help people blossom.


I feel compelled to write about this Steve. Intelligent people usually fall into the trap of not being open to new ideas; especially if their existing ideas seem to be working well in their perception. Most of the intelligent people also pass value judgment quickly if they cannot categorize new ideas into their existing patterns quickly.

As far as hiring decisions go, the three things I look for are:
1. Desire to succeed
2. Love for the work
3. Integrity
I have elaborated more on these points in my post here:

Steve Roesler


No argument with those, for sure. I had done a small series on integrity and discernment some time ago because of their importance.

Your observation about some people rejecting new ideas if they can't categorize them quickly is borne out by research. While it doesn't actually have to do with IQ as we know it, those who must analyze/categorize view the process as one of intellect. It is actually a predisposition toward a certain way of processing information. And, of course, can lead to some difficult interactions as a result.

As always, CA, thanks for adding to the conversation. Hope you're a little cooler up in Canada than we are here right now!

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