Are You Smart Enough?
Bill Cottringer

“Half of being smart is in knowing what you are dumb about.” ~Solomon Short.

I have been an avid researcher of the connection between intelligence and success for several decades now, and am finally ready to release my short list for guaranteed results—How to be smart enough. Maybe I should start out with the disclaimer that you can never be smart enough, as becoming smart is a forever road you have to travel. So, to become smarter, there are three aspects of intelligence to consider that collectively define smartness:


In the beginning days of the psychology of intelligence, the genetic inheritance of an intelligence quotient from parents ruled the schools and workplaces. And the amount of success you were predicted to have later on was in a direct connection to the IQ points you were luckily or unluckily born with. Unfortunately at the onset, there wasn’t much wiggle room for growth in IQ until we began to study success a little closer to identify all the common denominators involved with a cross section of the most successful people. We smartly switched our focus from pathology and failure to healthiness and success. Then the focus became the application of IQ and even allowed for gains in IQ points from personal efforts to do so.

I am a perfect example of the above scenario. In the 7th grade I took an IQ test and was found to be of below average intelligence. I had fairly bright parents and they did not take this news very well. But what they didn’t know was that I had to go to the bathroom very badly and just rushed through the Intelligence test marking the last few questions with random answers. Luckily I had a brother-in-law who was studying psychometrics in graduate school and he thought it was a good idea to retest me on both verbal and quantitative abilities with a more refined IQ test such as the Wechsler. My verbal abilities were found to be very average, while my quantitative (more hand-eye , computational and performance abilities) were well above average. At any rate I assured myself that I was under the median of the IQ Bell Curve, as at least average. And, the following year in 8th grade, my teacher openly predicted that I would become a successful brain surgeon someday soon because I was so meticulous with my work. Needless-to-say, this pleased my parents greatly.

Looking back in the rear view mirror, going on to college, completing a Ph.D. and becoming a psychologist, this all had very little to do with my IQ being average. These achievements were much more due to my efforts to increase my smartness in getting results, through reading many books and further researching the idea of intelligence. It just goes to prove that a person with an average academic verbal IQ can go on to publish 10 books and over 300 professional articles, just with a little more effort in writing and re-writing.


Someone much smarter than me discovered the importance of Emotional Intelligence (EQ) as being instrumental to success and exposed this pearl as a much easier way to augment missing IQ points. Being very true from my own experience with IQ’s, I was quick to jump on this bandwagon that is still going on today. Emotional intelligence is all about becoming the driver on the bus with self-control rather than being a passenger without such control. Being successful with others requires self-management first. This involves managing your own emotions and moods better and not allowing them to interfere with listening to others. It also involves being inner directed with your motivation to achieve goals and gaining the important quality of empathy to better understand and appreciate other people’s perspectives. Finally, this all leads to becoming more likeable with honesty, agreeability, positive attitude, good listening and realness.


This is where I would like to make an original contribution to the study of smartness and success. I believe the continued growth in smartness today will require a new aspect of intelligence—Flexibility Quotient (FQ). At this point in our mental evolution, the greatest gains will come from the easiest activity to improve, which involves the willingness to change a closed-mind to an open one. And I am reminded of a very poignant comment from a now deceased best friend in response to my earlier advocacy of open-mindedness: “If you can’t have an open mind, are you sure you even have one?”

FQ is simply the degree of mental flexibility you use in your thinking in being open to a few key realities:

• Whatever amount you know, it is a drop in the bucket compared to what is knowable and worthy of learning.
• Most of your beliefs where not well-informed ones and are simply not true, but for emotional reasons, you cannot see this and will not question their validity.
• There are many other valid perspectives out there, other than your own.
• We are all taught from an early age that failure is not a viable option.
• Your efforts and achievements have formed an ego in cement, to protect changing any of the above for the better.

So, with all this protection how do we make any progress in increasing our FQ to become smarter and more successful in meeting the complex challenges of our times? It has to begin with reading, mainly to dispel irrational “truths” that perpetuate the status quo. Failure is one such supposedly rational belief where it is critical to reveal its falsehood. The most successful people weren’t always successful. In fact, most of them had to survive a series of serious failures before they could taste minor successes. However, they didn’t run from failure, but rather embraced it. Fortunately, this is the favored position by the positive psychology movement today. After all, failures hide the success secrets we missed the first time around.

Other beliefs worth challenging have to do the natural resistances we all have about acknowledging the fact that all we think we know may not necessarily be so, and questioning the utility of our most prevalent fears—fear of change and fear of exposing our own vulnerabilities. And of course we all are convinced that we are expert communicators, when only the contrary is evident. Oddly the type of climate we create most in communicating to others—defensiveness by conveying things like judgment, superiority, control, insensitivity, certainty and manipulation—is what keeps us from getting smarter by reinforcing all the things we do to keep this from happening.

Are you smart enough? The honest answer for us all is probably not. So just pause and reflect upon all the things you may be doing to keep yourself from becoming smarter. The tipping point here is coming up with an honest answer to the question.

“Common sense would suggest that having ability, like being smart, inspires confidence. It does, but only while the going is easy. The deciding factor in life is how you handle setbacks and challenges. People with a growth mindset welcome setbacks with open arms.” Travis Bradberry.

Author's Bio: 

William Cottringer, Ph.D., Certified Homeland Security (CHS) level III, is Executive Vice-president for Employee Relations for Puget Sound Security Patrol, Inc., in Bellevue, Washington, and adjunct professor in criminal justice at Northwest University. He is author of several business and self-development books, including You Can Have Your Cheese & Eat It Too, The Bow-Wow Secrets, Do What Matters Most, ‘P’ Point Management, Reality Repair, Reality Repair RX, and Thoughts on Happiness from Covenant Books.