7 Intelligences: What Does it Mean to be Smart?

by Jim Cathcart

Several years ago actors Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise made a movie called Rainman. In it Raymond, (Rain Man) the title character was Autistic Savant. He was literally a genius and an idiot at the same time. Raymond’s greatest intellect was Mathematical. He could count and calculate as fast as a computer. But at the same time he was dysfunctional interpersonally. He couldn’t even carry on a normal conversation. The movie was based on truth. If we were to pose the most common question regarding intellect to Raymond, what answer would we get? Here is the question; How smart is he? You’d get contradictory answers wouldn’t you? What does it mean to be smart? It used to mean you could ace an IQ test or score well on the S.A.T. (Scholastic Aptitude Test). Smart people were the ones who were good at math and spelling and had huge memories. In many schools kids were separated by their scores. The smart kids got more attention and more privileges that the “slower” ones. In business we have traditionally defined smart as the ability to solve problems and understand things quickly. In fact quickness has been widely accepted as a trait of intellect. Yet many of the world’s great discoveries came not through quickness but through sustained laborious thinking and creativity. Thomas Edison is said to have been “a drudge” before his invention of the light bulb. He reportedly tried thousands of times to create it with no success. Many of our concepts on intelligence have been shaken up recently. Fore most among the tree shakers has been Dr. Howard Gardner whose book Frames of Mind cites seven types of intelligence. He says we’ve been measuring smarts too narrowly. Thomas Armstrong Ph.D. extends this concept in his book Seven Kinds of Smart. These great thinkers have proposed a much healthier question regarding intellect, not how smart are you but How are you smart? If we asked that question of Raymond, the answer would be immediate, He is smart mathematically. That answer would give us a sense of what he would do well, what he would probably enjoy and where his greatest contributions would come from. Gardner and Armstrong have provided us with some valuable new insight. The basis of their conclusions is this: There are at least seven multiple intelligences, all of which are possessed by everyone, except in different proportions. Your main smarts may be my lesser ones and vice versa. Here are the Seven Multiple Intelligences

  • Verbal -the ability to use words
  • Visual -the ability to see things in your mind
  • Physical -the ability to use your body well
  • Musical -the ability to understand and use music
  • Mathematical & logical -the ability to apply logic to systems and numbers
  • Introspective -the ability to understand thoughts and feelings in yourself
  • Interpersonal -the ability to relate well to others, people smarts.

Let’s explore each one briefly. As we do, think about which are your strongest kinds of intellect.

  • Verbal: good at explaining things, likes writing and reading, places more importance on things which are written or verbalized, likes word pictures, puns, creative phrasing, new words, enjoys expanding vocabulary.
  • Visual: Uses charts & symbols to get a point across, sees things clearly in the mind, can sense what something will look like, likes pictures and demonstrations to help understand things.
  • Physical: learns best by doing, wants to get a hands on contact with the subject, feels a need to move while learning, pastimes involve activity or handiwork.
  • Musical: Remembers tunes and lyrics easily, uses music as a frame of reference, has a natural sense of timing or rhythm, enjoys sounds of all types, is easily distracted by sounds, notices the cadence of things.
  • Mathematical & Logical: Likes to put things in order, arranges things logically, looks for patterns and relationships between things, good at analysis, calculation, planning. Needs for things to make sense. Speaks in sequences; first …, second…, then third.
  • Introspective: enjoys quiet time to be alone in thought, understands his own motives and reasons for doing things, likes to daydream about new ideas and explore his own feelings and thoughts. Reflective, thoughtful.
  • Interpersonal: People smart, good with others, can mediate arguments, knows what to do to connect with someone else, sensitive to others, likes contact with people, teams, committees, social events.

Which of those best describes you? You have all seven intelligences. But only a few of them are really strong in you. Which ones? Once you know your smarts, or another person’s, then you know how to reach them most quickly and what will be easiest for them to comprehend. You also will know how they prefer to go about learning things. If you encounter a person with Interpersonal smarts, they will learn best with people. They’ll enjoy group activities and team learning. One who has mathematical smarts will learn quicker if things are outlined and displayed in a systematic format. Verbal smarts work best when things are explained in words or written down. Teach a physically smart person by getting them involved in the learning. Give them something to do to practice the skill. One with visual smarts will want to sketch out the idea or see it displayed visually. Musically smart people will grasp an idea better if it is poetically presented or put to music. For example: ABCDEFG… And the introspectively smart person will use reflection as part of the learning process. They will want time to quietly think about it. Two things we need to know about all people we deal with are: How do they process information and how do they relate to people? Their multiple intelligences have implications in both areas but especially in how they process information. So how do you aid your own learning now that you have a sense of how you are smart? Well here are some ways suggested by Thomas Armstrong author of Seven Kinds of Smart and by Brian Tracy and Colin Rose, authors of Accelerated Learning Techniques. Verbal: Put things in your own words. Write it down Visual: Draw a mind map of the ideas. Create a sketch or schematic. See it unfold in your mind as if it were a movie. Physical: Use flash cards to arrange and shuffle the ideas. Act out what you’ve learned. Mime the activity or information. Musical: Compose a jingle or rhyme to describe it. Listen to music you like as you learn it. Mathematical: Outline the ideas. Devise a formula to explain it, ie: Awareness times Behavior equals Mastery. Introspective: Think about what it means to you. Reflect on your past experiences to find validation of what you are learning or how you can use it. Interpersonal: Discuss the subject. Teach it to someone else. Turn it into a team activity, each one teach one. Is this starting to fall into place for you? The ways in which you are smart are a part of the seed within you and hold the key to your further growth. So start now to notice more about your smarts and explore your natural intelligence. Excerpted from The Acorn Principle by Jim Cathcart.