There was a news item back in February that caught my attention. It was about a 16-year-old Essex blonde, Lauren Marbe, who scored 161 on an IQ test, which reportedly makes her "smarter than Albert Einstein".
Preposterous! I can't even begin to tell you how many ways this article is wrong. First of all, Einstein never even took an IQ test! His IQ was estimated at about 160. Moreover - and this is a little beside the point - there are other geniuses from days past whose IQ was thought to be even higher than that (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Charles Darwin, Rene Descartes, etc.).
Credit: By Photograph by Oren Jack Turner, Princeton, N.J. Modified with Photoshop by PM_Poon and later by Dantadd. [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsIn the same breath, yes, IQ tests are predictive of a person's general intelligence (reasoning, problem solving, storing and retrieval of information, etc.), but it doesn't provide a complete picture of a person's abilities that might include things like creativity, social competence, acquired skills and so forth.
Don't get me wrong; I'm sure Miss Marbe is very smart and I wish her a bright and wonderful future. However, if IQ was the only determining factor of success (or "smarts", for that matter), I'm certain that we would not have many of the modern success stories we are so familiar with.
Consider, for a moment, people like James Cameron, Thomas Edison, Pablo Picasso, Bill Gates, Walt Disney, Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs. What do they all have in common? They never finished school!
You could make the argument that genius and schooling are not interrelated and I would wholeheartedly agree with you. In fact, I would even go so far as to say that grades are not indicative of someone's ability to succeed in the world at all.
I would also suggest that today's education is too narrow-minded. It sets out to present only a handful of viewpoints (sometimes one), and as a student, if you don't agree with the teacher or the professor, too bad.
There are some subjects like mathematics and history (actually, they do modify the historical textbooks in some countries) that are less subjective, but if you're talking about philosophy, religion, theology or any other multifaceted topic, don't expect to get the whole picture from school.
There is a lot of good information in books, but if you expect to find it in textbooks, good luck. Textbooks are for the masses. Anyone can have easy access to them. If you want to dig deep and understand the mentality and attitude behind successful people, you're going to have to go deeper. And judging by how few people actually read books these days, not many do.
What am I getting at? Quite simply, education does not teach you success principals.
The Old Rules of Engagement
Don't get me wrong; I think education, in general, is good. I believe teachers deal with more than most people even realize, and they should be rewarded more generously for their efforts. Mentors, leaders, and teachers are the real heroes of this world.
Nevertheless, despite the apparent outward transition from the Industrial Age to the Information Age, many people continue to hold on to Industrial Age ideals. Unfortunately, the old rules of engagement are broken.
The recipe for success used to look like this:
- Go to school
- Get good grades
- Get a good job
- Work really hard
"What's wrong with that? You can be equally successful today doing exactly the same thing!" you may say.
Then why are so many families up to their ears in credit debt? Why are dual-income families the norm rather than the exception? Why are people mortgaging their homes and leasing their cars? Why is childcare such a profitable business?
There was a time, about 60 to 70 years ago, when credit cards didn't even exist. People paid for houses in cash. Moms stayed home and looked after the kids. Dual-income families were mostly non-existent.
"That's sexist" you may say.
My point is not that women should stay home. My point is that if it was still an option, there would be no stigma around it.
You don't have to agree with me, but I think the picture is pretty clear. There was a time when people had more freedom, and today people are enslaved to their mortgaged homes and leased BMWs. They are captives of their careers and jobs.
Get the Action Habit
Credit: Brady-Handy Photograph CollectionLet me get back to the crux of the matter. I want to propose that - while education is important and jobs aren't necessarily bad - when it comes to success, action is more vital than smarts.
Smarts aren't really an advantage or a disadvantage. Sometimes smart people tend to over-think things. I should know. I'm not suggesting that I'm "smart" per se, but I have taken many tests that show that I am an analytical thinker, and many people in my life have confirmed that as well. I have really worked on taking more action in my life, but my thinking can still "get in the way" sometimes.
I have watched very intelligent friends mull over a situation, when the obvious truth seemed to be that decisive action would put an end to the mental gymnastics and obsessive agonizing. "Does this girl like me or not? She seems like this, and she seems like that, and I'm just not sure. One day it's this and another day it's that. Maybe she's thinking this."
Maybe she's not really thinking about it at all. Maybe - more than likely - she's thinking about herself. Maybe she's just watching to see what you're going to do next, and she'd be more than happy to follow your lead. Maybe not.
Thomas Edison is perhaps the most famous and relatable example of someone who took action, but moreover, just didn't give up ("I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work."). Was Edison smart? All signs point to "yes". However, had he given up, our world might look considerably different today. Similarly, Abraham Lincoln was also a man who experienced many, many setbacks before becoming president, but he didn't give up.
Intelligence can help you solve problems, but it won't necessarily shortcut the hard work that achievement requires.
Since I summed up the recipe for success in the Industrial Age in four points, I'm going to attempt to sum up the recipe for success in the Information Age in four points as well.
- Determination: a decision is not enough. People make decisions a little too lightly today, and they're not terribly good at follow-through either (making the initial decision entirely pointless). If you want to succeed at something, you have to go all-in and all-out. You have to dedicate your life to a purpose.
- Hard work: working hard should never be confused with working smart. You should be putting more time and resources towards working smart. Hard work should not be avoided of course, and you should be prepared to work hard when necessary, but remember to make tweaks in your strategy periodically and prioritize activities that produce the best results.
- Persistence: follow Edison and Lincoln's examples. Don't give up if a solution is not immediately forthcoming. Keep pushing, keep trying, and keep getting up. Be willing to fail often, and learn from your failures. Instead of perpetually observing and analyzing, just take more action. Follow your gut.
- Consistency: the secret to achievement in adulthood is consistency. You can't build a tower in a day. You can't become fit overnight. As these sayings and their counterparts suggest, greatness is not accomplished with a little bit of effort. However, a little bit of effort on an ongoing basis can produce amazing things. Be willing to commit some time every day towards the completion of your goals.
Finally, don't fear being different. If you're following what everyone else is doing, then you're just treading average. If you make the conscious decision to take a different course, a new road, the road less traveled, you are much closer to greatness than you would be otherwise.