Thursday, July 12, 2012

Creativity, Not Raw Intelligence!

Over the years, I have seen a lot of conversations about how smart certain people are. These conversations have been frequent throughout my education and career, and there seems to somehow be a conflating between raw intelligence (whatever that is) and success.

To be sure, some of my colleagues at the various universities where I have spent time are absolutely brilliant people. One can often tell which of them just tower above everybody else in terms of raw intelligence. Good for them. This helps a lot when taking timed exams, but as long as one is able to achieve some minimum threshold of technical skills (which one needs to get through ordeals like graduate school), then one's success as a scientist then has much more to do with other things---like luck and creativity.

The most successful scientists tend to be the most creative ones (and there has to be some luck as well). They may or may not be the ones with the most raw intelligence. That is a myth---and a very damaging one at that. I know which faculty members I have met are geniuses or something along those lines, but my rankings of colleagues by raw intelligence versus by success are completely different. Raw intelligence does not (by any stretch of the imagination) make one's scholarship better than anyone else's. So let's do away with the myth that technical prowess is the key ingredient to success, ok? It is creativity, which is much harder to still but can (I believe) be developed.

On a similar note, hard is not the same thing as good. The problem one is studying doesn't have to be "hard". If you find an easy --- and, FSM forbid, understandable --- approach that turns out to be insightful, then (as one of my mentors taught me) that is in fact even better than doing something technically hard and achieving exactly the same insights!

Science is not about who does something that is technically the hardest. It is about insight, and that makes creativity both king and queen.

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