We all differ in our abilities to solve problems, learn, think rationally, acquire new knowledge and integrate existing and new ideas.
But you can improve your ability to function at your cognitive best in all areas of your life — you can significantly improve how you think — given the right tools, methods and mental models.
Intelligence is always work in progress.
Andrea Kuszewski, a Cog scientist, behaviour therapist, science writer, artist says intelligence is, “…about being able to approach a new problem, recognize its important components, and solve it — then take that knowledge gained and put it towards solving the next, more complex problem.”
The good news is, you don’t have to learn everything in hours, days or even months. The focus should always be on progress.
Getting smarter takes genuine commitment. You need to work hard at it. Knowledge builds up, like compound interest says Warren Buffett.
If you value intelligence, some of these skills can help you improve your capacity to learn new information, retain it, then use that new knowledge to solve your next problem, or learn the next new skill, and so on.
The ability to challenge received knowledge
The smartest people never stop challenging received wisdom, no matter how many years they’ve been passed down from history.
They don’t stop questioning the obvious.
“Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth.” Albert Einstein said that.
Scientists are great at asking questions, verifying “truth” and building on received theories. Newton discovered a lot of scientific knowledge but Einstein still questioned his discoveries and came up with new theories. Today scientists are still building on what they already know.
Conventional wisdom can breed a fear of change. Sometimes it fosters an over-reliance on old knowledge, tools, principles that may not be as relevant as they once were. People who value improved knowledge don’t stop questioning the obvious.
“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning,” says Einstein.
We’re human, and we see the world with our strong bias — our own experiences and curiosities. We see only patterns that fit with our existing knowledge and strong beliefs.
It pays to challenge ‘assumed truths’ — it’s one of the best ways to think more broadly about topics you care about their impact on your life and career.
Intelligent people constantly think of and ask better questions, and they tolerate their own mistakes as they move up the learning curve.
Learning how to learn well
Arie de Geus, a business theorist once said, “The ability to learn faster than your competitors may be the only sustainable competitive advantage.”
An important step in learning and improving our perspectives is knowing how to learn. Most people’s ability to learn better shuts down when they become good at what they do — precisely at the moment they need it the most.
Many professionals tend to behave defensively when it becomes to improving their knowledge — they tend to defend their own reasoning and styles of learning without making room for new approaches.
There is no single method of learning — smart people know that. They apply different methods and tools to retain more of what they learn.
“The ability to acquire new skills and knowledge quickly and continually is crucial to success in a world of rapid change,” writes Erika Andersen, the author of Growing Great Employees, Being Strategic, Leading So People Will Follow.
Learning how to learn is also a great way to resist the bias against doing new things or improving our mental models.
Success in any field depends on better learning — yet most people don’t know how to learn. To improve our retention rate, we need to reflect on your personality and know what works better for you.
The ability to consider problems from multiple perspectives
Smart people see value in all types of knowledge.
“…intelligent people are “willing to accept and consider other views with value and broad-mindedness,” and that they are “open to alternative solutions, ” writes Donna Hammett, former librarian, newspaper editor.
Many people often feel threatened when their ideas are opposed.
While smart people adopt new beliefs when presented with evidence of their blindspots, others reject different perceptions that challenge what they’ve been taught to be the conventional wisdom.
An openness to new ideas can help you understand things better and have a better chance to find multiple valid solutions.
“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald, a writer and best known for The Great Gatsby said that. You can use this philosophy to gain a fresh perspective on ideas and existing problems and to power breakthrough thinking.
Whatever your position, opinion or belief about specific issues or ideas in life and career, ask yourself “What if” I consider another perspective.
“You’re acting mindfully when you don’t simply dismiss activities and thoughts because they seem unappealing or even silly at first,” says Ellen Langer, Ph.D., a Harvard psychologist.
You don’t even have to immediately change your perception. You are just opening yourself up for new experiences before jumping to conclusions.
“When two people believe opposite things, chances are that one of them is wrong. It pays to find out if that someone is you. That’s why I believe you must appreciate and develop the art of thoughtful disagreement…”writes Ray Dalio, a self-made billionaire, in his book Principles.
The smartest people analyze what they’re told, what they read, or hear (either immediately or over time) and assemble a raft of truth that they can justify intellectually.
You are constantly changing, for better or worse — you won’t be the same person tomorrow, so why try to shove yourself in a single box. Improve your ability to reason at your highest human potential every day.
Give yourself the chance to become a better version of yourself — challenge your brain every day to achieve your full cognitive potential.