If you could be granted one natural gift what would you choose? What if the choice was between intelligence and wisdom? Being smart is commonly identified as being a key to success. But is smart overrated?
As a kid were you frequently if ever praised for being wise? I am pretty sure if my parents would have said, “Oh, you are so wise,” I was being called out and being discouraged from whatever “not so smart” remark I had just made.
But who can’t remember being compared to an overachieving sibling, cousin or peer and being told how smart they were. Parents and teachers love to praise kids for being smart.
Early in my career, I became very familiar with the fascination over intelligence. During our hiring process we gave candidates a test that included a measurement of raw intelligence. When we reviewed hiring packages with our CEO his first question was always, “Are they smart?”
I always wanted to say, “Of course they are. Their parents have been telling them they were smart their entire lives.” But I would have been called out for that remark. What he wanted to know was their IQ greater than 100. We’d joke about identifying “triple-digit” candidates.
Our CEO’s infatuation with raw intellectual horsepower eventually lead us to test our entire staff. He was convinced (and wanted to prove to us) there was a strong correlation between performance/contribution and raw intelligence.
The results did not prove that IQ was perfectly correlated with job performance. Although we had many high-performing triple-digit IQ employees it did not validate his belief that intelligence predicted work success.
Obviously if given a choice who wouldn’t choose to be a genius. But what if you had to choose between intelligence and wisdom? I recently thought about this as I prepared to be interviewed for a podcast because one of the potential questions was, “If I could grant you one natural gift what would it be?”
Intelligence versus Wisdom
Intelligence is the capacity to acquire and recall information on specific subjects. Wisdom is applying knowledge in a way that reflects the ability to discern or judge what is true, right, or lasting. Wisdom provides insight and gives rise to common sense.
There is a big difference between knowing something and knowing how to apply and use what you know.
Wisdom is the fruit of a growth mindset.
Dr. Carol Dweck has been fascinated with intelligence and the role it plays in learning and performance. In her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Dweck’s research shows that our beliefs about intelligence have a profound influence on our motivation to learn.
People who hold a “fixed mindset” are primarily concerned with how smart they are. If we covet being smart (holding on to being praised for it) we won’t risk not looking smart. We will focus on doing things we can already do well and avoid tasks and experiences that introduce the potential to fail.
On the other hand, people who hold a “growth mindset” are not concerned with perceptions about their intelligence. If we possess a “growth mindset,” we will embrace challenges and learning situations that possess the potential for us to learn and grow, even if we might fail.
Why choose wisdom?
We’ve all heard it said, “They are too smart for their own good.” But can you ever remember saying or hearing someone say, “They are too wise for their own good?" The distinction is significant and commonly missed. The fact is it is much easier for a wise person to gain knowledge than it is for smart person to acquire discernment.
Solomon could have asked to be the smartest man in the world, but requested and sought wisdom. He was obviously onto something because “wisdom” is referenced in Scripture 219 times while intelligence/intelligent is mentioned only nine times. Solomon said, “Wisdom is a shelter as money is a shelter, but the advantage of knowledge is this: Wisdom preserves those who have it.”
The pathway to wisdom.
Wisdom is the fruit of experiences that challenge us beyond what we know. It is a wise person who can recognize they don’t know something and willingly pursue learning and experiences that close the gap.
It is the wise parent or leader who creates and builds an environment that encourages learning that might result in failure. We may love to praise intelligence, but it is wisdom that holds the key to unlocking our success.
So many smart people are simply unteachable. They can't imagine someone knows something they don't. When we fall in love with our own expertise it can blind us to the opinions and insights of others. Smart people can struggle taking their thinking to a higher level or seeing situations from a different perspective.
The pathway to wisdom is embracing a teachable spirit. With a teachable spirit you will be forever curious, willing to learn from failures and grow in wisdom. Intelligence is valuable but overrated. Wisdom holds the key to influence, contribution and impact.
What do you think? If you could be granted one natural gift what would you choose? Why? I'd love to hear what you think!