Mathieu Nebra

@m_nebra

What Is Intelligence?

TL;DR Certainly not just IQ

I was in a bar, celebrating some cool milestones we’ve reached at our startup OpenClassrooms. I think I was drinking my 3rd or 4th mojito when someone of the team asked me this question:

“How does OpenClassrooms manage to assemble such a team of smart people?” — Anonymous team member

Well, first, thank you Anonymous team member. I’ll take that as a compliment.

However, this question made me think a lot. It haunted me for days. Why are they smart? Why do I like smart people? Why do they look intelligent to me? And how can you say that someone is intelligent?

Hiring Mistakes

As a startup co-founder, I’ve had the chance to meet many people, from very different backgrounds. I’ve been involved in almost all of our hiring processes. Many hires have failed, but I feel like I’m getting better at it over time.

I’ve stopped focusing on technical expertise. It’s just too dangerous to forget the rest. Instead, I focus on what I call “human intelligence”. Here is what I have in mind every time I’m interviewing someone:

How I view hiring (borrowed from Automattic CEO)

What is this “human intelligence”? Well, for me, it’s people who I can relate with, have an inspiring conversation with. These people:

  • Are always curious, they want to know more
  • Do not pretend they are perfect
  • Are usually smiling, easy-going people
  • Are themselves, not who they think you want them to be

All of this has something to do with their ego. People with very strong ego do not look that smart to me. They don’t have this “human intelligence” I’m looking for, which is why I don’t want to work with them.

Defining Intelligence Is Hard

When you think that someone is smart, what do you really mean?

There’s clearly more than one kind of intelligence. Intelligence is multiple things, which is why it’s so hard to define. For instance, you can have a strong technical intelligence but a weak one when it comes to relationships. If you want to know more, some have tried to list our multiples intelligences.

I cannot emphasize this enough, as I’ve been mostly told at school that I should get better grades on scientific topics. Our society has been overrating our logical power, which led to the birth of IQ. But we’ve been forgetting many things along the way: the human, emotional, intuitive aspects of intelligence.

On top of that, intelligence is relative. Someone will look intelligent to me because she will do better than me. She will talk about stuff I did not think about. She will draw a broader picture, showing that she has made more connections in her head than I did. That’s when I feel that someone is intelligent.

Trying to write down the equation of intelligence is hard. Everyone has their own definition. But if there’s one thing you should remember, it’s that there’s so much more to intelligence than IQ.

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