“Something More Than Intelligence”


If you asked people what was special about Einstein, most would answer that he was very smart. Even those who would try to give you a more sophisticated sounding answer would probably think so in the first place. A few years ago, I would have answered the same myself. But that was not what Einstein was special about. What was special about him was that he had important new ideas. Being very smart was a prerequisite for these ideas to emerge, but the two are not identical.

It may seem overly pedantic to look for the difference between intelligence and its consequences, but no. There is a big gap between the two. Anyone who has spent time in universities and research labs knows how big it is. There are a lot of really smart people out there who don’t achieve anything significant.

As a child, I thought that most of all in life people want to be smart. You probably thought so too. But I bet this is not what you wanted. Imagine that you were given a choice: be smart and not make discoveries, or be a little less smart, but discover many new ideas. You would probably lean towards the second option – for sure. Yes, making this choice is a bit awkward, but the benefits are clear.

The reason this choice makes me feel uncomfortable is that the mind still seems to me to be something important, even though my mind knows that it is not. I’ve spent so many years thinking this is the case. Childhood circumstances are ideal conditions for the development of this illusion. Intelligence is much easier to measure than the value of new ideas, and you are constantly judged by it. While even those kids who end up discovering something new usually haven’t discovered it yet. For children prone to this, intelligence is the “only game” in the city.

There are also more subtle reasons that persist for a long time in adulthood. Intelligence helps win the conversation and thus becomes the foundation of the dominance hierarchy. [1] In addition, the birth of new ideas is historically such a new thing (even now so few people are engaged in this) that society has not yet mastered the fact that this is a real goal, and intellect is just a means to achieve it. [2]

Why are so many smart people failing to invent anything new? Seen from this perspective, it seems rather depressing. However, there is another approach to consideration, which is not only more optimistic, but also more interesting. Obviously, intelligence is not the only ingredient required for new ideas. What other ingredients are there? Are they something we can nurture?

Since the problem with intelligence is said to be that it is mostly congenital. The evidence for this looks compelling enough, but given that most of us would not want it to be, this evidence has to face some very tough opposition. But I am not going to dive into this question, because there are other components that interest me for generating ideas, and it is obvious that most of them can be developed.

This means that the truth is significantly different from the one that guided me when I was a child. If intelligence does matter, and it is for the most part an innate quality, then the natural consequence of this is the belief in the inevitability of a Brave New World. The best you can do is find out what kind of work you have the “ability” for so that no matter what level of intelligence you are born with it is used to its best, then work as hard as you can. Whereas if intelligence is not what matters, and only one of several components matters, and many of them are not innate, things get interesting. You have a lot more control, but the question of how to arrange your life becomes much more complex.

So what are the other components of idea generation? The fact that I can even ask about this proves the question I raised earlier – society does not accept the fact that it is these other components, and not intelligence, that matter more. Otherwise, we would all know the answer to such a fundamental question.

I will not attempt to provide a complete list of qualities other than intelligence. This is the first time I’ve formulated a question for myself in this way, and I’m guessing it might take a while to find the answer. But recently I wrote about one of the most important qualities: irrepressible interest in a specific topic… And this quality can definitely be developed.

Another quality you require for generating ideas is independent thinking… I would not argue that this is something separate from the intellect – I would hardly call someone smart if he did not have independence. And although this quality is mostly innate, it looks like something that can be developed to a certain extent.

There are common technologies for generating ideas – for example, for work over your own projects, or to overcome the circumstances you are facing at the beginning of the path – and all of them can be learned. Some of them can be learned by society. And there are also sets of technologies for creating highly focused ideas such as ideas for startups or topics for articles

And of course, there are many pretty mundane ingredients in discovering new ideas, such as hard workgetting enough sleep, avoiding certain types of stress, working with the right people, and finding ways to work on what you love, even when it’s not what you should be working on. Anything that stops people from doing great things has the opposite effect of helping them. And this category of ingredients is not as boring as it might seem at first glance. For example, the creation of ideas is often associated with adolescence. Probably not adolescence per se allows for the creation of ideas, but certain things that are inherent in adolescence, such as good health and unencumbered responsibility. Learning this can help you formulate strategies to help people of all ages create better ideas.

One of the most amazing components of the ability to create new ideas is the skill of writing. There is a category of ideas that are best thought of in the process of writing articles or books. And the word “in progress” is used intentionally: initially you do not think about these ideas, and then you simply state them when writing something. This is a separate way of thinking that works in writing, and if you feel uncomfortable or uncomfortable with it, then it will get in your way when trying to use that way of thinking.

I predict that the gap between intelligence and new ideas will prove to be an interesting place to look. If we think of this rupture simply as a measure of unrealized potential, it becomes a kind of wasteland through which we try to go through, closing our eyes. But if we turn the question around and begin to explore other constituents of new ideas that are supposed to exist, we can find discoveries in this gap regarding discoveries.

Notes (edit)

[1] What wins the conversation depends on the interlocutor. It ranges from simple aggressiveness at the bottom, quickness of mind in the middle, to something closer to real intelligence at the top, although probably always with some component of quickness of mind.

[2] Just as intelligence is not the only ingredient in generating new ideas, having new ideas is not the only thing intelligence is useful for. It is also useful, for example, in diagnosing problems and identifying solutions. Both overlap with the presence of new ideas, but both have no end.

These uses of intelligence are far more common than having new ideas. And in such cases, intelligence is even more difficult to distinguish from its consequences.

[3] Some attribute the difference between intelligence and having new ideas to “creativity,” but that doesn’t seem like a very useful term. In addition to being rather vague, it is shifted half the frame away from what interests us: it is not separable from intelligence and is not responsible for all the difference between intelligence and having new ideas.

[4] Curiously, this essay is an example. It began as an essay on writing ability. But when I got to the point of distinguishing between intelligence and having new ideas, it seemed so much more important to me that I turned the original essay inside out, making this topic and my original topic one of the points of the essay. As with many other areas, this level of processing is easier to speculate when you have a lot of practice.

Thanks to everyone who helped with the translation!

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