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It’s Not About How Smart You Are . . .

It is how you are smart that really matters, at least according to Howard Gardner, professor of Cognition and Education at the Harvard School of Education.  Gardner should know he has authored more than 17 books on this and related topics.

He defines intelligence as an ability to solve problems or create products that are valued in one or more cultural settings. What is valued varies significantly depending upon the environment. If your Mercedes breaks down on a secluded stretch of highway who do you want with you, the star MBA at your office or the kid who aced auto shop in high school?

Gardner developed the theory of multiple intelligences and cites eight specific intelligences: linguistic, logical-mathematical, visual-spatial, musical, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal (social), intrapersonal (self-analysis), and naturalist. Most of us have a few intelligences that stand out, some that are average and others that cause us real difficulty.

“Why”, you might ask, “do I care about this?” Because identifying how you are smart can help you make better career choices. The earlier you do this, the more likely you are to find work that lets your true genius shine.  If your particular brand of intelligence isn’t appreciated by your boss, you can end up underpaid, labeled a trouble-maker or unemployed. All of which can result in low self esteem.

I sometimes refer clients who are struggling to find work that fits to Johnson O’Connor Research Foundation for aptitude testing (jocrf.org). The foundation not only tests aptitudes but ties the results to specific occupations. This isn’t one of those old-fashioned interest tests; they’ve done research into which combination of high, moderate and low scores in various aptitudes are ideal for specific occupations, including fighter pilots.  It is not about scoring high in every aptitude, rather it is a unique combination of scores that translate into success in any given occupation. For example, among other aptitudes, a brain surgeon needs tweezer dexterity, without it she will always struggle (I wouldn’t want to be her patient) and ideally should consider another medical specialty.

The 19 aptitudes identified and tested by Johnson O’Connor Research Foundation tie in neatly with the eight intelligences Gardner discovered.   

Understanding your in-born aptitudes can help you appreciate your unique brand of genius and increase the likelihood of finding satisfying work. For those whose “smarts” are not the kind most often rewarded by our educational system, this information can provide a much-needed confidence boost and encourage career exploration beyond the tried and true doctor, lawyer, merchant, chief.  

In the long run, it is better to discover your suitability for an occupation before you spend years studying for it. Parents, before you send your child off to college, consider a visit to one of Johnson O’Connor Research Foundation’s 11 offices around the country (the nearest is San Francisco.) The charge for this service is often less than the cost of one college class, well worth the price, in my opinion. And, by the way, I am not affiliated with the foundation; although I am a fan.

Johnson O’Connor Research Foundation will test children as young as 16 and as far as I know there is no upper limit when testing adults. If you’ve never quite found your career niche, aptitude testing may provide the answers you seek.