What Does it Mean to be Smart?


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Do your people manage complexity effectively?

Do your people respond to challenges with practical, creative and productive solutions?

Once upon a time, when society was stable and things didn’t change very often, repetition was an acceptable substitute for thinking, and experience was the predictor of success. But now, things are more complex, and experience may only mean that a person has learned how to do the wrong thing very well. In the past, organizations were more hierarchical, and only a few people did the thinking for everyone else. Things are different today. It’s the companies that are able to harness the intellectual capital of their entire organization that hold the competitive advantage.

In the past, decision-making trees and moral codes were established to help people with their thinking, but the validity of these methods has disappeared as the pace, the change and the complexity have increased exponentially. The reality is that business will become more volatile because the rate of change, fuelled by technology and social aspirations, continues to accelerate.

In a complex world, the need for enhanced thinking skills is greater than ever. We each have more freedom to make decisions. Each decision is an opportunity to be smart and creative; to actually THINK. Powerful substitutes for thinking such as habits, doctrine, dogma and letting someone else doing the thinking have not only been weakened, but actually replaced by empowerment—but empowerment of what and by whom? Today, people have to think more and make more decisions, but are limited by the habits of past generations. Most people simply lack the cognitive skills to manage the challenges they’re faced with on a consistent basis. It’s unrealistic, even immoral, to ask people to accomplish tasks for which they clearly lack the prerequisite set of skills required for success.

What it means to be smart is the willingness to learn; to look for alternatives and select the best possible option; then demonstrate the competencies required to execute the plan-to think. Our society adequately develops the required technical and intellectual skills, but we’ve missed the mark on developing essential thinking skills that help people manage complexity.


The Information Age has proven that knowledge and thinking are two different things. The process of acquiring information is not the same as the process of acquiring thinking skills and competencies. Information only enables people to reach the introductory level of thinking. Nowadays, information is presented at such a dizzying pace that people are actually limited in their opportunities to learn valuable thinking skills.

Information is currently perceived as a panacea—if we have more information, then doubt, indecision and problems will disappear. Information is piled on because it’s easy to teach and acquire. With perfect and complete information, there would be no need for thinking; the answers would be simple and clear. Yet this level of knowledge is unattainable; all decisions are based upon imperfect and incomplete information. Until we reach the point where we have perfect and complete information, we need to learn how to think in order to take advantage of the opportunities presented by the information we do have.

The Logic Model

Logic and mathematics can be highly effective thinking systems and, thanks to these methods of thinking, people have walked, driven and even swung a golf club on the moon. As remarkable as these accomplishments are, they’re easier than increasing market share, increasing productivity while cutting costs or getting people to do things that they don’t really want to do and have them enjoy it. Out in space, the variables are fixed and predictable, and follow the laws of physics but back here on earth, we have to deal with people and relationships. Performance situations are vague but interrelated, subjectively defined, with erratic principles dependent on human emotion and ambiguous value systems. Very rarely do we have all the information required to solve a problem, and yet we’re expected to take action and make the right decision.

Animals enter this world better prepared for survival than the human species. If humans had to rely solely on instinct and physical strength, we’d be lower on the food chain than Timon & Pumba from The Lion King. Lions have strong jaws to devour their prey, along with soft feet so that their prey is unaware of the danger until it’s too late. Deer are able to move swiftly through heavily wooded areas to elude the wolf. Porcupines and tortoises move slowly enough for any predator to catch them, but make for unappealing conquests because of the physical penalty and the investment of time. Even butterflies are born with better self-defense mechanisms. Most butterflies have the same coloring as bark or leaves that leaves them unidentifiable to their predators. The most colorful butterflies aren't likely candidates for prey due their highly acidic taste. Birds actually spit them out. But humans have none of these advantages. All we have to account for our survival and dominance is the six inches that lies between our ears. Yet over tens of thousands of years, we’ve actually done very little to develop our one strength. Learning how to think is the only way in which we further develop the human species.

Teaching People How to Think

Thinking can be taught, and the key is to treat thinking as a skill that can be improved by attention. The result of learning how to think is the increased production of alternative solutions, then choosing the best possible solution. A practical and personal approach is applied to the teaching of thinking, but it can be a very intimidating subject to teach. Thinking is the ego and criticizing thinking threatens the ego. It may involve resentment—thoughts such as “Someone is better”, “My thinking is not what it should be”, or “My thinking is better” create learning obstacles from the beginning. The key is to reduce the intimidation factor by depersonalizing how people think. Everyone can see thinking flaws in other people but are unable to see similar shortcomings in themselves.

Another learning obstacle is that most people see thinking as automatic and involuntary, similar to hearing, seeing and breathing. When people understand that the act of thinking is actually a choice and voluntary, then they begin to understand that the teaching of thinking is the learning of perception. We have a choice in how we want to perceive situations. An important educational principle states that perception and insight increases performance. Perception is how we look at things and thinking knows no boundaries—so the applications are infinite. The “Doers” in your organization—the people who use their thinking to bring something about—will gain the greatest benefit from learning how to think. The goal is to enlarge the perception of the collective whole. As the collective perception enlarges, people see things more clearly, as if you’ve received the right eyeglass prescription for your organization. Companies that see the reality of the marketplace with greater clarity and speed hold the competitive advantage.

Human capital is about people, and it’s people who create productivity. “A country’s ability to improve its standard of living over time depends almost entirely on its ability to raise its output per worker, ” said Princeton economist Paul Krugman. World War II veterans doubled their productivity over a 25-year span and lived better than their parents ever imagined. Vietnam War veterans, on the other hand, raised productivity only 10% over a 15-year period and found they were living no better, and in many cases worse, than their parents. Krugman concluded that productivity isn’t everything, but in the long run it’s almost everything. Productivity begins with a thought, a vision of might be. It takes thinking skills to turn visions into reality.

Learn what it means to be smart through Dr. Long's new book, Level Six Performance: A Gold Medal Formula for Achieving Professional & Personal Success published by Champion Press.

Proving through his work with champion athletes and corporate executives that leadership and high performance are learned skills built upon inherent strengths, Dr. Stephen Long has helped permanently raise corporate and team productivity from adequate - to outstanding. Level Six Leadership™ is a breakthrough social operating system that immediately enhances an organization’s efficiency. Applying his coaching and leadership techniques, Long’s instruction has helped Fortune 500 companies realize a 125% increase in productivity. Long’s method proves performance relies more on learned, deliberate competence much more than natural cognitive ability. Using Level Six Leadership™ techniques, organizations can adapt to stressful and changing business situations as well as any championship team in overtime. Identified as a top-10 performance enhancement specialist in North America in an independent study conducted at the University of Utah, Dr Long is a highly sought after speaker, consultant, executive coach and trainer.


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