When I was in grade school, our teacher taught us about the “multiple types of intelligence,” a model that was put forth by a man named Howard Gardner. He is a doctor, an endowed chair professor at Harvard University, and he has won all sorts of prestigious awards. He is a MacArthur Fellow, and he holds honorary degrees from twenty-nine universities across four continents.
So, he must be correct. Right?
His theory is that un-correlated cognitive abilities can be classified into different “types” of smart, which coincidentally makes all people feel that they are “smart” at some thing or other — “music smart,” “sports smart,” “language smart,” etc.
Everything he says makes perfect sense so long as (1) you can trust the word of a person who has never worked in the real world and (2) your primary goal is to make everybody feel special. Even the complete dumbass who is good at football.
I don’t have as many degrees as Dr. Gardner, but I do know what it takes to build something, and I have spent significant time with a lot of “smart” people. And I believe that my empiricism has allowed me to segment the different types of intelligence across a different framework.
Furthermore, I think that all ideas should be applicable to the real world, and so I have done this with an eye towards a business, though it could also apply to a government, law firm, or other goal-oriented institution.
So, with that in mind, here is the Bryan Goldberg Theory of Multiple Intelligences.
This is exhibited in people who are curious. A person fosters this intelligence by constantly asking himself why? or then what happens? They read about an historical event and wonder what subsequent event was triggered. Or they learn about one body part and want to know how it connects to the next organ in the system. Intellectuals are less driven by getting something done than they are by understanding the world around them.
Intellectuals make terrific friends, and they are some of the people who I most enjoy working alongside. The only drawback to intellectuals is that they often struggle to add value in a professional setting. This is because their work is, by its nature, self-serving. Their own edification does little to improve the world around them. Typically, a great lawyer or businessperson is intellectual in addition to at least one other type of intelligence. If not, they can prove to be pretty lousy at their job.
2. Analytical intelligence
This is exhibited in people who prove. An analytical person wants to explore a concept, garner enough data to put forth a thesis, and then demonstrate the validity of that thesis beyond all reasonable doubt. Invariably, this involves a lot of numbers, and so these people are often called “quants” or “wonks” or something of the sort. They are driven by the desire to get something done, but they prefer not to actually do it themselves. They prefer the comfort and safety of an arm’s length, but can often explain why something did or did not work. Often, they are responding to existing challenges, and therefore are not as useful on day one.
Quants are a valuable addition to every team in business, but they are probably not the first person you hire on that team. But once they are in the door, they can profoundly change how things get done, simply by feeding their conclusions to the people who actually operate the system. For this reason, they are often very highly compensated and have terrific job security.
This is exhibited in people who get things done. They are highly able, and they always know what they — and others around them — should be doing. They don’t need to worry about what’s happening outside their immediate world (unlike an Intellectual), nor do they need perfect information (unlike a Quant). They will move forward with or without data in hand, and they will get things built through pure force of will. They are great with schedules, communication, and multi-tasking, and they make great managers. They are attentive to detail, and the smartest ones know exactly how much detail is necessary.
Operators form the managerial nucleus of every team in a business. They are usually the first person you want to hire in a startup, because there are so many tasks that need to get done, and specialization is impossible to attain when you can only hire a small cadre of employees. Plus, they usually have something to show at the end of the day.
This is exhibited in people who communicate. They may rely upon other people’s ideas, but they sure sound great talking about them. Charismatics feel pain when they are not around other humans, and they want to be the center of attention. They want to be on stage talking about something, and their greatest joy is when others respond to what they have to say (with laughter, applause, audience engagement, anger, etc.). To that end, they often rely on humor as a powerful tool, to work a crowd or make a situation more comfortable. They think hard before they talk.
Charismatics make great salespeople, business developers, and just about any job where they get out of the office. They usually don’t need to truly understand their company’s product or business, but the best ones distinguish themselves by so doing. They spend the vast majority of their time meeting with the charismatic folk at somebody else’s business, and so they forgive one another when nothing actually gets done. And, yet, as though by magic, stuff usually does get done thanks to them. Sometimes, they receive too much trust and credit from their peers, which can lead to a mismanaged company.
5. Common sense
This is exhibited in people who are attentive. They know when they have walked into a bad neighborhood or when an unreasonable request has been made of them. They can follow instructions, and when the instructions are wrong, a little light bulb goes off in their head. They get along well with others, because they never let a situation become unwieldy, nor do they destabilize something that works. They also keep their distance from problematic people or situations. In short, people with common sense keep their team on its rails.
Attentive people should make up as much of a workforce as possible, spanning all departments and job descriptions. They are great as junior members of a team. Young people with common sense can form the entire foundation of a startup. Beyond that, common sense is a great skill in an executive, and one that — when absent — can lead to disaster. Most people who end up in a career rut do so because they lacked common sense.
This is exhibited in people who build. No, they may not be handy with tools in either the literal or metaphoric sense. But they see what something will look like before it exists, and they have a good idea of how to make it exist. They can deconstruct and reconstruct a problem and its solution. While the rest of the world is mulling a challenge — reliance on fossil fuels, tough economic constrictions, everyday hassles, etc. — visionaries are thinking about what the next evolution looks like. The best entrepreneurs have the vision to solve a problem or (in best cases) skip over a problem altogether. Bad entrepreneurs start a company without knowing what problem they are solving. They are not building anything at all.
Visionaries are the most important people in a business, and yet they so often fail. They deserve the title of builder, but we all know that a blueprint is in-and-of-itself not very valuable. But a good blueprint becomes very valuable when it is communicated properly to a team of highly skilled and organized people, hence a visionary’s dependence on other intelligences.
Much like Dr. Gardner, I consider these six intelligences to be highly un-correlated. I’ve met people who are profoundly intelligent in one way, and complete buffoons in another. I also believe that an individual can exhibit all six of them concurrently, or none of them at all.
Any person who has worked in a business will immediately be able to figure out which intelligences can be applied to their friends and colleagues. They will know which intelligences their CEO possesses, and hopefully this impacts their decision to stay (or not stay) at their company for very long.
By its nature, intelligence is distinct from other virtues or vices. A person can be ambitious or lazy, and that will simply catalyze whatever direction their intelligence has taken them. Similarly, a person can possess all six of the above intelligences, only to be held back by an addiction, physical unfitness, or other issues. The biggest mistake people make is to pursue a career that poorly fits their intelligence — i.e. when a charismatic goes into medicine because their father was a doctor.
Finally, I think that one key characteristic of intelligence is that it is difficult to develop. Most people either have it or they don’t. Sure, you can take a speaking course or work to improve your organizational skills — but it probably won’t make you charismatic or highly capable.
On measure, the most successful people are winners for four reasons:
1. They possess multiple of the above intelligences.
2. They work well with teammates who possess the ones they lack.
3. They work hard.
4. They get lucky.
And, that, ladies and gentleman, concludes this terribly unscientific study of what we mean when we talk about “smart.”
…but it’s probably more correct than that guy from Harvard’s.
[Image courtesy eliz.avery]