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The Shift From Intelligence to Wisdom

“When you are young, you have raw smarts; when you are old, you have wisdom. When you are young, you can generate lots of facts; when you are old, you know what they mean and how to use them…. if you can repurpose your professional life to rely more on crystallized intelligence—your peak will come later but your decline will happen much, much later, if ever.” — Arthur C. Brooks, From Strength to Strength

Raymond Cattell theorized that we have two kinds of intelligence: fluid intelligence, which includes problem solving, reasoning and logic, and crystallized intelligence, which is the wisdom to draw upon our accumulated knowledge and derive what to make if it all. If fluid intelligence is exhibited by start-up hustle and eager undergraduate students devouring information, crystallized intelligence is more the consultant swooping in to help a business define their why, or a professor guiding those undergrads towards enlightenment.

In my career, I’ve been the eager hustler trying to do as much as I could in the world, and I’ve become the person trying to make sense of it all. It’s probably no coincidence that I began this blog when I reached some measure of crystallized intelligence. Surely it would be nothing but fish and chips reviews (ie: discovery) were I still in that fluid intelligence stage. Ten years ago I was still taking exams to add certification credentials to my resume. I wouldn’t dream of playing that game today. Does that make me an old dog unwilling to learn new tricks, or someone who realizes my best game isn’t about that particular trick?

The thing is, we can still be eager students of life at any age. We can seek wisdom when we’re young and solve problems when we grow old, but it helps greatly to optimize our lives around our strengths in the phase of life we find ourselves in. To be useful and productive means something different at 25, 50 and 75. we ought to dance with our strengths and mitigate the impact of the absence of those strengths we haven’t arrived at yet, or have faded as we change.

Brooks’ premise is that achievers often fight the natural decline in fluid intelligence instead of embracing the accumulated wisdom and potential of crystallized intelligence. This leads to frustration at best and bitterness at seeing the world pass us by at worst. The answer seems to be finding a groove that matches the music playing on our particular playlist, and dance with that. The tune changes as we change, but it’s music just the same.

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