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.

3 thoughts on “Knowledge and Intelligence

  1. I agree completely. I’ve had clients who are successful in their industry tell me I’m smart. I thank them for the compliment, and usually say something like, “Well, I specialize in web design, just like you specialize in x. You’re pretty great at x.” The point is that everyone applies themselves to different areas, regardless of IQ.

    There are so many factors that go into achieving success in a field: IQ, knowledge, social network, opportunities, etc. Some things you can take credit for, but many you can’t.

  2. I agree with this post as well.
    Some of my coworkers and past classmates have mentioned that they thought I was very smart. However, these people are smarter than me in other areas, such as learning foreign languages or knowing how to socialize with others in a crowd.

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