by Deborah Noel

originally published in the 2015 Spring Issue

Recently, I met with a youth to help him prepare to enter a Carpentry program at a local college. During the course of our conversation he confided in me how unhappy his parents were that he was choosing to go into the Trades and that he wasn’t “intelligent” enough to go to university. I asked him if he had wanted to go to university. He said that he hadn’t and was happiest when he was building something. Again, he commented on not being “smart”. I confided in him that just that past week, his “smart, university educated counsellor” had to pay a handyperson hundreds of dollars to do much needed fix-it jobs around her house. Relating to him the nature of the work he laughed and said “Oh, come on.. that’s easy stuff” and I looked at him and said “For you!”

My kind of smart, the kind that can memorize and put a sentence together, in our current school system , is considered the best kind of smart. Had I been born in my mother’s time I am sure I would have been scorned and pitied. With no ability to cook, sew measure, chop wood or start a fire, I cannot do anything that involves hand-eye coordination. In short, I will not be a Survivor contestant anytime soon. I am not that “kind of smart”.

The standard definition of intelligence according to Webster’s Dictionary is the ability to acquire and apply new knowledge or skills. The key words in this definition are “acquire” and “apply”. Intelligence seems to relate more to the ability to gain information and then having the ability to put that information in its context. The best example I can think of would be teaching a child about fire. We teach a child that a fire is hot and it can burn. The information is applied when the child doesn’t put his (her) hand in the fire.

The IQ (Intelligence Quotient) test has been used since the early 1900’s when the French government asked Alfred Binet to develop standardized testing to help schools determine which students may need assistance. Binet himself did not believe that his tests should be used to measure a single, permanent and inborn level of intelligence. He stressed the limitations of the test, suggesting that intelligence is far too broad a concept to quantify with a single number. While your IQ score might be a an indicator of your reasoning and problem-solving abilities, they don't tell the whole story. Talent and practical abilities are not measured. You might have an average IQ score, but you might also be a great artist, musician or mechanic!

As the title suggests, in actual fact, there are many shades of grey when looking at intelligence. Howard Gardener classified intelligence into nine types; Naturalist, Musical, Mathematical, Interpersonal, Kinesthetic, Linguistic, Intrapersonal, Existential and Spatial. There is a lot of information available on the Net to help you determine which individual or combination of intelligences you may possess. There are many online tests for this. One of the ones I like to use is

Along with standardized IQ tests we often hear about emotional intelligence which is defined as the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one's emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically. Some say that emotional intelligence is often a better predictor of future success than a high IQ score. We all know people who do very well in a school environment but seem to have difficulty moving ahead in the work world. According to Daniel Goleman in his book, “Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ”, it is likely that many leaders and managers have a high Emotional Intelligence Quotient or “EQ”. Although EQ is hard to measure there are tests online which can give you an idea of your emotional intelligence. www. is just one of the many online.

So, there you have it. Intelligence is a very, very grey area and there are many different kinds of intelligence. Can you increase your intelligence? Googling the term will give you over 73 million results. My suggestion to getting smarter? Stop googling! Read more, move more, talk more, socialize more. Number one? Stay (or become) curious. Try to learn something new every day, whether it be trying a new recipe or learning a musical instrument, don’t stop learning. Before you know it you will be your own personal expert on your own fifty shades of grey (matter).

Toronto, Canada