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Gisela McKay

President and Co-Founder, pixcode


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How do smart people "find their level" in conversation?

I am interested in identifying how smart people (gifted/exceptional or whatever word we’re using this week) people recognize each other.

I have observed that they can identify each other relatively quickly, and even broadly determine where they sit relative to each other while average or “less smart” people can usually identify that they are dealing with “smart” people but not necessarily the extent to which they are smart.

Some things I have observed that are “tells” of being “quicker”:

1. A willingness to leave the conversational basics behind and explore deeper into the subject (and if the person they are conversing with does not follow, drop back to the level the other can cope with).
2. Anchoring - taking the current topic of conversation and looking for a frame of reference they are already familiar with to understand it better.
3. Quips and parallel commentary - fleeting comments that are not meant to derail the main thrust of the conversation.

Any other keys you have observed in your experience?


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    Aug 14 2011: This question is a sign of foolishness in my opinion.
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      Aug 14 2011: And you are entitled to it!

      (Of course, I wouldn't consider immediately dismissing things out of hand without contemplating them to be a particularly positive sign. But that's just my opinion.)
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      Aug 14 2011: Dear Eduard,
      The foundation of education: No question is foolish! It all depends on how you wish to address it.
      Kind regards,
      • Aug 15 2011: I disagree Astra. A foolish question is one that is asked without attempting to solve it yourself first. They tend to be the result of laziness.
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          Aug 15 2011: Hi Jason (and Eduard,)

          I would disagree. Your reply, Jason, assumes there is only one reason to ask a question (to solve it.)

          There are many reasons to ask questions: social bonding, curiosity, clarification, "testing the waters" to see what others think; checking for other, unthought of perspectives; misunderstanding, teaching, and so on.

          And, in my opinion, there are no "foolish questions." There are, however, foolish answers.
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          Aug 16 2011: Just that I said:" this question is a sign of foolishness '' for obvious reasons I think, not that this is a foolish question . I don't know and I don't care if there are foolish questions or not.
      • Aug 16 2011: Thomas, Atstra wrote "The foundation of education...". Therefore the questions in that context would be ones in which we are seeknig answers. Therefore my assertion stands.

        Obviously in a situation where there in attempt to solve a problem, this would be untrue, but frankly, I think it's pretty obvious that's outside of the scope of mmy comment. So I'm not sure what you're disagreeing with.

        Do you not feel in an educational environment, that is behooves students to try and figure things out for themselves first before asking?
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          Aug 16 2011: Hi Jason,

          No. I think it behooves us to make education an exciting and enthralling undertaking. We do not do this if we make the student feel foolish (for any reason.)

          [In general, we do not make education compelling for any number of other reasons. But that is a topic for another conversation.]

          I have responded to questions I thought were foolish only to find the questioner had a unique, and quite intelligent, perspective that was outside of my frame of reference.

          As an aside, I do not think the object of education should be to find answers. At least not in the conventional sense of the term.

          Western education is primarily based on the principle of "Right/Wrong." There are questions and they have a right answer - one right answer; and they have many wrong answers.

          This practice teaches us to learn and remember information (at least until we take a test;) it does not teach us to think.

          I think asking questions, even foolish ones - and encouraging such inquiries - does more to promote and teach active and creative thinking than does our current (Western and Chinese) system of education.
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          Aug 17 2011: Dear Jason,

          Thomas has replied so much more eloquently to your remark than I could, so I will just take shelter under that umbrella with a ‘thumbs up’ :)I enjoy the discussion and your points of view, thank you both for that.

          In an attempt to spiral this conversation back to the original conversation topic by Gisela one remark to: ‘Do you not feel in an educational environment, that is behooves students to try and figure things out for themselves first before asking?’ In my opinion it depends on the circumstances. If you take ‘an educational environment’ to mean a school or similar institution, then ‘yes’ because there students are trained to function that way.

          However, to me anywhere can be an educational environment. Some people grow up with a ‘Why?’ period in their youth. Some are silent and observe more. We learn differently and we express ourselves differently. And of course it isn’t a black and white vision and certainly not a case of ‘always’ or ‘never’.
          To me a smart person does ask questions, when something is unclear to him/her (as you are doing on this TED forum) and it would be ideal if the person addressed receives that question with enough love and wisdom to provide a respectful answer.

          With respect,

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