Education, Intelligence and Success

One of the common fallacies that I often hear is that education is based on intelligence or vice versa. The more degrees a person has, the more intelligence that person possesses and the more successful that person is. Is this really true? I cannot say definitively that the answer is so clear, but it appears to be more false than true. There are many people who have multiple degrees and are incredibly smart and have some level of success. Then there are those people who have no degrees and may have left school before finishing, but are still intelligent and are successful. The problem is, and I would like to thank a friend for this, primary and secondary education do not play to the students' strengths. The education system tries to be a "one-size-fits-all" model but does not fit all.

There are those people who go to school for years and years, collecting degrees like others collect baseball cards. While there is nothing wrong with this, it is those people who have some feeling of superiority over those who don't have that level of education. I have met many people with many degrees who are working in positions that have little, if anything, to do with any of those degrees and yet they will use them as proof of their success. There are many examples of people who are considered very intellegent and successful, but never even finished high school. People like Peter Jackson, director of Lord of the Rings and Sir Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin Enterprises.

These three concepts are all highly subjective. A degree may denote so many years of education, but it does not tell the whole story. There are many other ways to learn besides spending time in the classroom. Some people learn programming languages or other computer skills through books purchased on their own, or just have an interest in a subject that they don't want to have to go to school to learn. Then there are some that simply get lucky and are in the right place at the right time and have the opportunity to do something new fall in their lap. A degree also does not reflect a person's actual interest in the subject. He may have simply made it through school so that he would get the degree to have career stability rather than to do something he is passionate about. The degree could simply tell how good a person is at regurgitating facts and figures instead of actually learning how to apply the subject in real life. Education does not necessarily speak to intelligence either.

Intelligence is a nebulous concept that is also highly subjective. Many will look to IQ tests as a measure, but this is errant. The IQ test was originally developed to find learning deficiencies in young people and allow them to catch up to others. Intellligence, to put it simply, is an ability to process information. Again, this does not indicate any desire to actually want to learn a particular topic, it simply says how well one absorbs knowledge, which can lead to multiple degrees. Intelligence does not say anything about a person's character or work ethic. Intelligence may lead to multiple degrees, but neither guarantor of success.

Success is in the eye of the beholder. Two people can look at somebody and each make a different evaluation of that person's success. The person that they are evaluating may see himself differently than the others because he may think he is being paid too little or his work is not rewarding. Success is subjective to each and every person. As was stated with my two examples above, Branson and Jackson both have no educational degrees, but both can be considered highly successful in their respective fields. I consider myself successful because I am not only once again working in my field, but I am also breaking into a field that I have never worked in before, nor do I have the formal education. I was given the chance because the person who gave me the opportunity saw some potential and decided to take a chance.

Too many people use these artificial benchmarks to judge others, but the one thing that cannot be told through these factors is who this person really is at heart. This is quite important, especially when it comes to hiring this person into a company. There have been many highly intelligent people according to the above factors, but their characters was questionable at best. It's time to reevaluate how judge intelligence and education, at least in our personal lives. That high school dropout may end up becoming the next young billionaire.