I've been thinking recently about what traits I have that people perceive as me being intelligent. These reflections started after a person said to me, "You're not as smart as you think you are!" Truth be told, I think I'm of average intelligence, and I hope that I don't come across as arrogant to others (I feel somewhat reassured as this is the first time I've been told this in my life – but it did get me thinking). Below are my five traits that I think make me seem intelligent to others although the jury is still out on the accuracy of those perceptions.
Ability to memorise and quickly recall facts
I have a good memory for facts, figures and details; not just related to my career but the other fields that interest me. I have eclectic tastes and tend to consume information from a broad range of sources and on pretty much any topic I am interested in. I am often in the car for work and always have the radio on, listening to news and current affairs and it's hard not to remember bits and pieces of the articles presented. That said, I still forget to buy milk and I need to have all birthdays and anniversaries in the calendar – so my memory is far from perfect!
Curiosity to discover
Curiosity comes in many different forms but I always want to find out more and know as much as possible, sometimes even to a fault. As an example, I love technology but don't really have any formal training in IT. At home we had a computer (an Apple IIe) from when I was quite young and I grew up playing games, doing BASIC programming and tinkering. I learnt that it was good to try things out and quite difficult to break things catastrophically. I tend to have that mindset generally and even if I can't experiment directly, I will research to discover more.
Ability to solve problems
I like puzzles and challenges – figuring things out. In fact, some times I like the problem itself more than the solution.
I see problem solving as a toolkit and the true skill of a problem solver is to know what tool to use for what job. Some problems require a rigorous and methodical approach while others need a more creative and free-form approach. This is one reason why I enjoy mathematics as a field of study. While I don't think I could ever be a mathematician, I admire the way they think about the world both in abstract and concrete terms as called for by the situation.
Think laterally and logically
The classic "thinking outside the box" is a nice idea but a difficult skill to use sometimes. I see this not so much as thinking "outside the box" but "differently to convention". Let's face it, sometimes everyone else is busy trying to think outside the box and missing the blatantly obvious solution sitting patiently inside the box. But I also want to highlight that thinking differently doesn't mean throwing out logic and all the rules that go with it. Perhaps a good way to conceptualise this is to play devils advocate; to yourself and with others, to really understand an issue or uncover something new.
Work with others
"No man is an island." I try to take this to heart and seek help or another opinion when faced with a challenge. I realise that it is all too easy to get wrapped up in your own mind sometimes and only by seeking input from others can a problem be solved, or something learned. I also try to recognise when I don't know "the answer" and so I ask others, with the very act of talking about a problem helping to uncover an answer or illuminate a different aspect.
I'm a big believer in "feeding your brain" and exercising it to. Since it's so easy to get distracted these days, I try to spend at least an hour a day learning something new or thinking deeply about a problem. Any opportunity I get to better understand something, reflect on a topic or learn more, I grab with two hands. The traits I've discussed above are what I think sets me apart from other people but nothing on the list is unique to me. I think it's the culmination of all aspects that is key, along with a commitment to always learn more.
And to address the point that I'm not as smart as I think, perhaps that is simply coming from another person with a similar combination of traits. So when compared with them, maybe I don't have any distinguishing characteristics that they regard as intelligent. Who knows!?