15 often underestimated signs of genuine intelligence

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Intelligence is often equated with good grades in school, but let’s be real – grades are just one small part of the equation.

True intelligence is about much more than just acing tests and getting straight A’s.

It’s about being able to apply what you know to the real world, to think critically and solve problems, to be practical and resourceful.

In short, it’s about being able to use your knowledge to navigate and thrive in the world around you.

I used to think intelligence was all about grades too. I remember being obsessed with getting straight A’s in school and thinking that was the key to success.

But as I got older, I realized that grades are just a superficial measure of intelligence. It’s not just about what you know, it’s about how you use that knowledge.

So, what are some often underestimated signs of genuine intelligence? Here are 15:

1. Learn new things quickly.

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” ― Mahatma Gandhi

Genuinely intelligent people are able to pick up new skills and knowledge with ease.

They are able to adapt to new situations and learn from their experiences.

I’ve seen this firsthand with my partner, who can pick up a new hobby or subject and become an expert in no time.

It’s seriously impressive.

2. Think creatively and come up with new ideas.

“We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.” ― Kurt Vonnegut

Genuinely intelligent people are able to think outside the box and come up with unique and innovative solutions to problems.

I’ve worked with some seriously intelligent people who are able to come up with creative solutions to problems that had stumped everyone else.

3. Communicate effectively.

“You can talk with someone for years, everyday, and still, it won’t mean as much as what you can have when you sit in front of someone, not saying a word, yet you feel that person with your heart, you feel like you have known the person for forever…. connections are made with the heart, not the tongue.” ― C. JoyBell C.

Genuinely intelligent people are able to clearly articulate their thoughts and ideas, and they have the social skills to engage others in meaningful dialogue.

I’ve noticed that some of the most intelligent people I know are also the best communicators. They can explain complex ideas in a way that’s easy to understand, and they’re able to have deep, thoughtful conversations with anyone.

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4. Think critically and analyze information.

“Do not indoctrinate your children. Teach them how to think for themselves, how to evaluate evidence, and how to disagree with you.” ― Richard Dawkins

Genuinely intelligent people are able to evaluate information and arguments from multiple perspectives, and they are able to make logical and well-reasoned conclusions.

I’ve found that some of the smartest people I know are also the best at analyzing and evaluating information. They can take a bunch of data and make sense of it in a way that others can’t.

5. Solve problems.

“I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.”
― Abraham Maslow

Genuinely intelligent people are able to identify problems, break them down into smaller parts, and come up with effective solutions. I’ve seen this with my friend who is always able to fix things around the house. He’s able to identify the problem, figure out what’s causing it, and come up with a solution. It’s seriously impressive.

6. Be practical and resourceful.

“Responsibility to yourself means refusing to let others do your thinking, talking, and naming for you; it means learning to respect and use your own brains and instincts; hence, grappling with hard work.” ― Adrienne Rich

Genuinely intelligent people are able to use what they have at their disposal to get things done, and they are able to think on their feet and improvise when necessary. I’ve noticed that some of the most intelligent people I know are also the most resourceful. They can make do with what they have and find creative solutions to problems.

7. See the big picture.

“There is a magnificent, beautiful, wonderful painting in front of you! It is intricate, detailed, a painstaking labor of devotion and love! The colors are like no other, they swim and leap, they trickle and embellish! And yet you choose to fixate your eyes on the small fly which has landed on it! Why do you do such a thing?” ― C. JoyBell C.

Genuinely intelligent people are able to step back and see the broader context and implications of a situation. They are able to make connections between seemingly unrelated things.

8. Be self-aware.

Genuinely intelligent people are able to reflect on their own thoughts and actions and understand their own strengths and weaknesses. This is something that I’ve had to work on personally, but I’ve found that being self-aware is crucial for growth and success.

9. Open-minded and willing to consider different viewpoints.

“There are few things more dangerous than inbred religious certainty.” ― Bart D. Ehrman

Genuinely intelligent people are able to listen to others and consider their perspectives, even if they disagree. I’ve found that some of the most intelligent people I know are also the most open-minded. They’re willing to listen to others and consider different viewpoints, which has helped them learn and grow.

10. Flexible and adaptable.

Genuinely intelligent people are able to pivot and change course when necessary, rather than getting stuck in their ways. This is something I’ve had to work on as well, but I’ve found that being flexible and adaptable is key to navigating the ups and downs of life.

11. Self-motivated and self-directed.

“Most people do not have a problem with you thinking for yourself, as long as your conclusions are the same as or at least compatible with their beliefs.”
― Mokokoma Mokhonoana

Genuinely intelligent people are able to set their own goals and work towards them independently. I’ve noticed that some of the most intelligent people I know are also the most self-motivated. They’re able to set their own goals and work towards them without needing someone else to tell them what to do.

12. Curious and ask (good) questions.

“Philosophy ought to question the basic assumptions of the age. Thinking through, critically and carefully, what most of us take for granted is, I believe, the chief task of philosophy, and the task that makes philosophy a worthwhile activity.”
― Peter Singer

Genuinely intelligent people are always looking to learn more and deepen their understanding of the world.

I’ve found that some of the most intelligent people I know are also the most curious. They’re always asking questions and seeking out new knowledge.

13. Empathetic and understanding of others’ perspectives.

“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.”
― Henri Nouwen

Genuinely intelligent people are able to put themselves in others’ shoes and understand their feelings and experiences. I’ve noticed that some of the most intelligent people I know are also the most empathetic. They’re able to understand and relate to others in a way that really deepens their relationships.

14. Resilient and perseverance through challenges.

Genuinely intelligent people are able to bounce back from setbacks and keep going, rather than giving up easily. This is something that I’ve had to work on personally, but I’ve found that resilience is key to navigating the ups and downs of life.

15. The ability to be reflective and learn from mistakes.

“We are products of our past, but we don’t have to be prisoners of it.”
― Rick Warren

Genuinely intelligent people are able to take a step back and analyze what went wrong, and they use those lessons to improve in the future.

I’ve noticed that some of the most intelligent people I know are also the most reflective.

They’re able to take a step back and analyze their mistakes, which has helped them learn and grow.

So there you have it – 15 often underestimated signs of genuine intelligence.

Grades are just one small part of the equation.

True intelligence is about much more than just academics.

It’s about being able to apply what you know to the real world, to think creatively and critically, and to be practical and resourceful.

Justin Brown

I'm Justin Brown, the founder of Ideapod. I've overseen the evolution of Ideapod from a social network for ideas into a publishing and education platform with millions of monthly readers and multiple products helping people to think critically, see issues clearly and engage with the world responsibly.

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