I’m going to guess that everyone who’s ever built a web site has had someone say to them “You’re really smart”. I know I have, and at various times in my maturity it has made me feel cool, smart, amused, disgusted, terrified, and ambitious.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what that means, about what They mean when They say it. I suspect some people really believe I’m smarter than they are, that they couldn’t do what I do. But I really believe most people actually mean “You’re really knowledgeable.”
I know some very smart people who already do what I do who tell me I must be really smart to know what I know. But I’m not any smarter than they are, I’ve just looked up the answers to more questions than they have. Being “old” in my field gives me a little advantage there, I’ve had more time to be curious.
I’ve been at fault in this myself though, and not very long ago. People have asked me “How can I learn what you know?” and one of my answers has been “Don’t be afraid to ask the Smart People”. In my line of work I really respect people like Pippin Williamson, John Bloch, Brian Richards, and a ton of other people that I know are really smart.
Are they smarter than me? Maybe. Maybe not. I’m certain that they know more than I do in some specific areas in which I’d like to grow. But that knowledge is certainly not a genuine indicator of intelligence. I absolutely believe they’re very intelligent, but my point is that knowledge is not an indicator of intelligence.
I’m hunting a new job at the moment, and I’ve said to my wife a number of times that I want to go someplace where I’m not the smartest guy in the room. What I really mean by that is I want to go someplace where I can learn, and learn a LOT.
I also want to stop using knowledge and intelligence as synonyms, because I don’t want to fall into the trap of thinking “I could never be as smart as that person”. Who knows, maybe I’m already as smart as that person, I just haven’t found the answers to the same questions that they have.