In this article, I would like to focus on what intelligence is. Only when we really understand what intelligence is, and why it is so important, are we likely to take it seriously.
You will know that I stuck my neck out by suggesting that our current definitions of intelligence are too narrow, not least because they fail to take account of the moral dimension. Forrest Gump may have been simple and unsophisticated, and therefore “unintelligent” in many people’s eyes, but he behaved more wisely, and better, than many people. In my eyes, such behaviour makes him intelligent. Being “smart” or “clever” or “brainy” (qualities normally associated with intelligence) is no guarantee that you will behave wisely or well. Thus, it is no guarantee of intelligence.
As you can see, I am defining intelligence not in terms of ability to do IQ tests or understand theoretical physics etc. I am defining intelligence wholly in terms of behaviour. If you behave wisely and well, then you are intelligent. If you do not, then you are not.Beyond this, I prefer not to go, because it is notoriously difficult to define intelligence precisely. If you look, you will find that there are as many definitions of intelligence as there are people trying to define it! Instead, I prefer to paint a picture of a truly intelligent woman I know, and take it from there.
I find her very impressive, because there is something compelling about the way she looks, the way she speaks, and even the way she moves. She is economical in her use of words and her use of energy. She seems to be able to get things done without really trying. And it is reassuring to have her around, because she always knows what to do when something goes wrong. I feel good when I am in her company, because she is cheerful and friendly, but also because she seems to understand me at least as much as I understand myself. If we were able to look inside highly intelligent people, we would see that they are acutely sensitive to the world around them. They notice a lot and miss very little. And we would see that they are masters of their feelings, and are able to tune into, and empathise with, the feelings of others. They have exceptionally good minds, which enable them to think clearly, and see, at a deeper level, why things are the way they are and how they are likely to be in the future. They have learned to trust their intuition, and they have learned to transcend many of the conventions and beliefs that restrict human development and creativity. They are very obviously mentally and emotionally intelligent, but it goes far beyond that. Everything about them is intelligent. We have a sense that everything they do and say makes the world a better place.
All this is significant, because it means that truly intelligent people excel at an exceptionally wide range of things, including the things that are valued by businesses, organisations and by society in general. For example, they make good leaders, because they have a clear vision and because they are good at inspiring and encouraging people. They are very effective communicators, because they think clearly, but also because they know how to reach out and touch people. They are good at solving problems, because they know, at a deep level, why things happen. Better still, they are good at anticipating and avoiding problems. They are good negotiators, because they are empathic and understand people. They are economic in their use of time, energy and resources, which is good news for any organisation! They are excellent at scanning the future – they see what is coming more clearly and sooner than most. They tend to be creative and rich in new ideas, because their minds are open and flexible. They are authentic – there is no contradiction between what you see and who they really are. For example, they stand up for what they believe when there are pressures on them to conform. And, just as important, they are a pleasure to be with. On all counts, they are priceless assets to any organisation or community.
Question: how much of yourself do you recognise in the above description? What qualities would you like to cultivate in yourself, and in your organisation?
Of course, I recognise that all this may sound too good to be true. It is rare that we come across the kind of people I am talking about here. But there are good reasons for this. We live in an age of extreme specialisation, with a strong emphasis on technology and on the skills and knowledge that can be used profitably in the economy. In such circumstances, intelligence, in the sense I am speaking about, is rarely discussed, let alone taken seriously. Yet if an organisation trained its people to be more intelligent, it would bring benefits right across the board. For example, it would be a healthier, happier organisation, because well-rounded, developed people tend to be happier and healthier, but also because they are a positive influence on all those around them. The organisation would be more economical and effective, because this is how highly intelligent people behave. They really do get things done quicker and better! And it would be a more responsible organisation, socially and environmentally, because highly intelligent people would tolerate nothing less. All in all, the organisation would be much more attractive – to its customers, employees, the public, and to NGOs – and this would bring valuable benefits, financial and otherwise.
It is worth pausing to think through the implications of this. Typically, a business or other organisation trains its people skill by skill, subject by subject, and this may be appropriate when the skill or subject is very specialised or technical. There is, however, a strong case to be made for a “one-stop training”, in which many skills and qualities can be developed at the same time. This is exactly what intelligence training is designed to do. It seeks to improve the full range of intelligence in a balanced, integrated way. In other words, it helps you to behave wisely and well.
In Part Three I will suggest a few more practical ways to raise your intelligence.