Ever since we were kids, we were judged on our intelligence.
Think about your time in school. In the greater scheme of things, the 5 or 6 years you spend in high school or secondary school, depending on what part of the world you are living in, is a short amount of time. It is, however, so incredibly formative for how we feel about ourselves in so many ways. It is these years that we decide if we are cool/popular/funny etc. More importantly, this is most likely where you decided if you were conventionally smart or not.
And this is dangerous.
Such a short amount of time in school, such a massive tail on the effects of the experience. The vast majority of us leave school with a false idea of what we are capable of. This can be from a hugely positive experience in school from a great academic ability. Or, which is most likely, you left assuming you were average or below average intelligence. Understanding the different ways we are intelligent can result in us having more empathy for our team and colleagues, offering insight into how others see the world and where their strengths lie.
In the 1980’s Howard Garner, a research professor at Harvard began speaking about his theory of intelligence. He called it MI Theory – Multiple Intelligence Theory. The theory states that we are all intelligent but in a myriad of different ways. Gardner says that intelligence can be considered in 8 different ways. Let’s use an analogy to understand it. Much like a brand new laptop comes out of the box with pre installed apps or programmes, your brain is set up in much the same way. We all have natural abilities, things that come to us easier than it does for others.
If you have kids, think about the personality of your eldest, it is probably fair to say that the next child is completely different. They arrive pre-programmed with their idiosyncrasies and ideas about the world. Gardner’s theory suggests the same thing about our intelligence. We are all very capable but just in different ways. Those lucky enough find their strengths can lean in and be very successful. Others spend their time second guessing themselves and wondering if they are good at anything.
In school, if you were like me and never got more than a ‘C’ in an exam you might have left school thinking you were not particularly smart. Think about most of your subjects, they were almost exclusively focused on 2 of the intelligences listed by Howard Gardner. If you happened to not have arrived in this world with those intelligences preloaded you were behind before you even started. Have a read of the intelligences below and see if you can guess what school focuses on. After that we will reveal how you can use this new knowledge to improve your relationships with your team.
This is the kind of person who can never get lost, they can look at a map and understand it immediately. They have no problem parking a car. They can conceptualize large scale products. Think about this: in your mind’s eye, imagine picking up your house and rotating it around so that you can see the sides, and the back, the roof and under the foundations. If you are reading that thinking, yeah and? If it is effortless to you to imagine that you might have an intelligence strength in this area. Pilots, architects, sailors, and chess players are people who are strong in this area.
Bodily – kinesthetics Intelligence
These people struggled to sit still in school. It was like putting them in a straight jacket, unless it was PE, art class or something where they could excel through movement. These people are excellent at using their bodies to solve problems. And in fact are just great at moving. They gravitate towards dancing and sport. Just read the story of Gillian Lynne if you need proof of this. Or 23 year old Mr. Beast who hated school and now has over 200 million subscribers on his youtube channel.
Pretty straightforward this one. A person with the innate ability to play an instrument or sing. These people have a sensitivity to rhythm, pitch, meter, tone, melody and timbre.
People who are good with words, who enjoy the meaning of words and who can use them to solve problems. These people might gravitate towards sales, writing books, and content creation. They might even find themselves being good at negotiation.
Again this one is quite easy to identify. If you are good with numbers, are analytical of mind and enjoy problem solving you likely rank highly in this category. Accountants and actuaries are the obvious roles that fit this.
A sensitivity to the moods of others, being able to ‘read a room’. Have you ever walked into a room and just as you are about to say something, you immediately detect an atmosphere? So you hold off until you get a sense of what just happened before you walked in. Not everyone can do this. People who are genuinely curious about others usually have interpersonal intelligence. They might be councillors or sales people.
This is a person’s ability to understand their own emotions. They don’t just feel happy/sad/stressed they can almost step outside of themselves and observe themselves feeling the feeling. This ability to engage meta-cognition (the ability to think about your own thoughts) is useful in keeping someone level headed and cool under pressure. This works because the person catches themselves in the moment of anger for example and is able to talk themselves down.
One’s ability to make distinctions between living things. Now that might sound like ‘I know that’s a tree and that’s a dog, I’m a genius’ but it goes a bit deeper than that. Think of someone like Charles Darwin who was able to see the subtle differences between species on the various Galapagos Islands.
There are 2 other types of intelligence that Gardner has floated but ultimately rejected as he felt they did not meet the requirements for a standalone intelligence. Those are Comedic intelligence, the ability to be funny, to recognise what is funny and to essentially be able to keep a group of people entertained. The other one is Existential intelligence. This is the ability to ask the ‘big questions’ What is the point of life? Where did the Universe come from? These type of people could end up being philosophers or physicists.
So now, looking at the list of intelligences, what did school focus on? Mathematical and Linguistic intelligence. This provides us with 2 conclusions:
- You’re way smarter than you think you are. You definitely have strong abilities in at least one of these intelligences. And you can make a career out of it.
- The people you interact with on a daily basis have varying levels of intelligence in each of those categories. If you can stand back and observe your team you might be able to understand the world from their perspective. And that is a huge step towards motivating them, offering recognition in a way that they will appreciate and ultimately setting your team up to win.