‘So I was speaking to this girl the other day, she just graduated from Med, about to be a doctor! She is obviously very intelligent!’
… But is she really? Or is she well educated?
Education and intellect, although both embodying the concept of knowledge, are two different constructs that often get mistaken for the same. Intelligence refers broadly to a multidimensional and functional intrinsic ability to apply ones cognitive skills in the process of learning and problem solving. Research seems to have reached a consensus that intelligence is largely hereditable and influenced partly by environmental factors.
The first idea that often jumps to mind when speaking of intelligence is an IQ test. However, it can be quite disheartening to take an IQ test, largely focused on testing a limited set of intelligences (usually including visual-spatial processing, auditory processing, processing speed and memory) only to find out you are ‘below average’.
Thankfully, in recent years Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences has become more widely accepted. Gardner identified eight different types of intelligences: Linguistic, Logical/mathematical, Musical, Spatial, Bodily/kinesthetic, Interpersonal, Intrapersonal and Naturalistic; which may be present within us to varying degrees.
Sooo, that means we can just blame mum and dad for our lack of intelligence, kick our feet up and accept there’s nothing more we can do about it … right? Well there’s a little more to it than that!
Through the process of education we can further develop our skills and abilities in these areas. Education is an external force by which one receives information, usually by another person (teacher, parent, mentor etc.), or even by research through books or the Internet. So while it is possible to improve at these intelligences, in general it seems that ones environment will essentially either strengthen or restrict an individuals naturalistic tendencies.
So should you spend your time working on those skill sets that don’t come as naturally to you? Not necessarily!
Focus on your strengths NOT your weaknesses
Growing up, I’m sure many of you were advised to work on your weaknesses, however in consideration of the growing body of research it seems you are probably better off working on your strengths instead. For most, the areas in which we are proficient at (our strengths) are natural capabilities, which with further training; education and development can be excelled at to achieve an optimal level of performance.
It is by no means a bad thing to work on your weaknesses; by devoting more time to the areas you struggle with you are very likely to improve and if you are passionate about this area you should work on these skill sets. However it is improbable that you will excel as greatly as you would have by focusing on your strengths. If you are linguistically intelligent for example, it makes more sense to study journalism as oppose to chemistry. If you are excellent at communicating and understanding others, you are more likely to succeed as a therapist rather than a statistician.
Based on the current research, it seems that if you are lucky enough to also enjoy what you are naturally good at it is worth investing time into mastering these skills in order to become successful in your chosen field.