Learning to Be “Successfully Intelligent”

I am fascinated by what makes people learn as well as the connection between learning and motivation. A few years ago, Yale psychologist, Robert Sternberg, wrote a book called Successful Intelligence. The basic premise of the book is that to be successful in life, you need three types of intelligences: analytical, creative, and practical. School, and our test-driven measurements, promote analytical intelligence. But without creative and practical intelligence, Sternberg argues, graduates can have difficulty holding down a job and solving personal problems. These skills, he asserts, matter a great deal in the world outside of school. All three are necessary for success in learning, career, and life.

So, how can you promote these skills within yourself as an adult or within your child if you are a parent? This week, with school starting back across the country, we will explore the intelligence of creative thinking.

Consider the possibilities. This is the genesis of creative thinking and creative solutions. How can you generate as many solutions as possible to a problem? Silence your mind when it begins to rule out ideas, or judges them for being too far-fetched. Mentally explore the possibilities. Allow yourself to visualize where they take you without judgment at the outset. Think blue sky.

Ask questions. Leonardo DaVinci repeatedly used an effective technique: He wrote down one hundred questions. Then he would circle five which had the most relevance to his life. Later, he would select three questions to tackle personally. If this doesn’t come naturally to you, know that you can develop this quality. What are powerful questions which can allow you to think in a more expansive way? What questions can allow your child to see the pros and cons of the choices she is weighing? How can you turn your statements with your spouse, your child or your co-workers into questions which give them mobility of thought and response? How can you ask more questions of yourself so that you can see as many options as possible on your own? How can you enlist the creative minds of others in helping you see yourself and your situations with a greater number of options?

Allow yourself time. The western world is driven to do everything fast. I am culprit of this myself, but have worked at consciously slowing down the last few years. Often, our minds and hearts need time to ponder, to consider, to explore without being rushed. I often tell college students who are undeclared as freshmen, that it is GREAT that they haven’t decided on a major yet. They are free to explore their interests in their introductory classes, their part-time jobs and internships. When we rush too fast to make a decision, we often lose our options. Sometimes a fast decision is imperative. Often though, time to reflect can make all the difference between an average or a great outcome.

There are many ways to be creative, to dream, and to consider the outrageous, starting with how you see yourself and your options. Next week we will talk about how to turn ideas into reality— practical intelligence.

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