Travis Bradbury, a guest writer for Entrepreneur magazine and also Forbes magazine , in an article titled, “10 Research-Proven Tricks to Seem Smarter Than You Are” claims, “It’s great to be smart, but intelligence is a hard thing to pin down. In many cases, how smart people think you are is just as important as how smart you actually are.” Really?
It turns out that Bradbury was not the only person to read the research he references. I located a similar article by Drake Baer, who seems to have read the same research, in Business Insider titled, “9 Science-Backed Tricks for Appearing Smarter than You Are.” Apparently, Baer dropped one of the methods Bradbury recommended. In what may be a pursuit of brevity, Megan Elliott boils the advice down to “7 Ways to Look Smarter Than You Are” in an article in Money and Career CheatSheet. A video by Lilly Singh/ASAPScience on YouTube shares “6 Ways to Appear Smarter Than You Are.” Another video offers “4 Psychological Tricks To Look Smarter Than You Are!” Finally, Alex Naidus a Buzz Feed staff member gives much more, rather than less, advice in an article titled, “14 Lazy Ways To Seem Smarter Than You Actually Are.” I think Naidus has hit on something important here about all of these articles and it is that some people want to appear smart rather than be smart. These articles all offer their readers shortcuts to looking smart for the person too lazy to take the time to become smart. Ironically, Naidus is the only one who suggests ways to look smart that could actually increase one’s intelligence.
According to the research to which these authors refer, one can look more intelligent by doing such things as: wearing glasses (even if you don’t need them), using a middle initial, using graphs in presentations, and speaking expressively.
This advice is good if you want to become a poseur, but I am more interested in being smart than I am in looking smart. However, this advice may be attractive to Millennials or my Gen Z students. Many people today, young or old, do not value the experience or results of learning. Unfortunately, most of my students want a college degree, but they do not want a college education. Their goal is to pass their courses with the least amount of effort on their part. It seems that the majority of students are not interested in the subjects they study. Since I teach required subjects such as English Composition, Literature courses, American History, and Humanities, most of my students are not in my class willingly and most are not there to learn. They want no more than to pass the course. They do not actually want to be smarter.
Unlike the intended audience for most of the advice articles about looking smarter, I want to actually be smarter than I already am. Long term, this is a more beneficial pursuit than the desire to have others think I am smart.
I enjoy learning new things. I am interested in almost everything. I think people are interesting. I think the world is an interesting place as is the past and the future. I am as willing to learn about ants in Borneo as astronauts in space. I would encourage my readers to pursue a goal of being smarter rather than looking smarter. Therefore, I suggest 5 ways to be smarter rather than to look smarter.
1. Read. Read books, articles, journals, and magazines on a variety of topics. Read fiction and nonfiction. The thoughts of the greatest thinkers of the past and present time throughout the world are preserved in books. I hear students claim all the time that they can’t concentrate when they read. They are too distracted. Their brains are not trained to focus on the written word except in short text or Twitter-like bursts. They are capable of reading, but they must put down their phones and video games and develop their minds to focus on what they are reading and to then to think about what they are reading. For those with difficult reading, I suggest listening to audio books.
2. Think critically. Think on purpose. Look at a topic or text or situation from multiple viewpoints. Look for explanations. Look for connections. Approach films, art, and written texts from a critical point of view. By this I do not mean you must criticize the text, but rather to explore the meaning, context, and purpose of a text. Concentrate on the text’s meaning. Ask questions of the text that move from simple comprehension to analysis. Make connections. Draw conclusions. Ask the kinds of questions that produce answers that will explain what the writer is talking about, why they are saying what they are saying, where and when they said it, and whether or not it is accurate, complete, or biased.
3. Don’t believe everything you are told. Question authority. Find out for yourself if what you are told is true. Research to verify whether what you’ve been told is accurate or complete or relevant. Determine whether the source is trustworthy. Decide for yourself whether or not to believe what others tell you. Find out what is true by researching and thinking about the ideas and issues raised by the text. Make your convictions your own, not something handed down to you or absorbed from those around you. I am willing to admit to my students that I don’t know everything and I’m willing to research and find out more about a topic about which I know nothing. If I am wrong about something I have said, I suggest we look it up and find the right answer.
4. Be curious. Learn something new every day. Don’t limit your interests to narrow categories. Observe every day actions, sights, events in new ways. Listen to what others are saying. We can learn from others. Discuss ideas with friends, family, coworkers, fellow students, neighbors. You do not have to agree, but it is good to understand why other people believe what they do. I have always said that everyone has a story to tell and I want to hear it. I tell my students that they represent a well of information. Each student has had experiences others have not had and all can learn from them. Each one knows things that others do not and they can share their knowledge. Any time I want to know something about a new topic, I look for books and articles on the subject. I ask others what they know about the topic. If I see an art work, I want to know all about the artist and their experiences and ideas that influenced their work. Learn to wonder why.
5. Make intelligent decisions. Decision-making is a process. Discover anything that can help you make an educated decision. Consider the consequences of each of your choices or actions. Consider the multiple possible outcomes for you and for others. Weigh the pros and cons of a choice. Sometimes there is no one right choice and no one wrong choice. If you make choice A, certain things will or may happen. If you choose choice B, then other things will occur. It may not be that one produces more positive or negative results. The results will only be different. Consider short and long term results of the decision. Examine your facts for overlooked information that could alter your decision. Ask for advice from various people you trust and perhaps some people you do not trust to get more than one point of view and then weigh the advice you receive. My husband has a friend who always sees the negative in every topic or idea. My husband knows that he will always advise against whatever he discusses with him and that is why he talks to him. He wants to hear what he has to say because he may see a negative consequence or point that my husband has overlooked or dismissed. This helps him make better decisions.
If you want to be smarter, rather than just look smarter, begin to read, to think, to question, to be curious, and to make intelligent decisions. On the other hand, if all you care about is looking smarter, I have provided the titles of several articles that will advise you how to do that.