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Posts Tagged ‘What is Smart?’

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Earlier this fall I shared a post Does Smart Still Matter? That was the script I had built for a TEDx Talk answering the question “What is Smart?”  It was slightly different from the previous TEDx talks I had given as I was limited to five minutes and given the topic. There were four of us speaking at the TEDx WestVancouverED event who were given the same task.  Here is my final video:

 

 

And here are links to the others who each “smartly” took on the same challenge:

 Personal Development Consultant Erica Nasby

Librarian Shannon Ozirny

Actor Josh Blacker

But, I want to share the story of how my talk came to be.  My love of writing is something I always shared with my Dad. He was a high school English teacher for more than 30 years with almost all of those at Killarney Secondary in Vancouver.  I did share a little bit about my Dad in an earlier post this year – Teacher. For my entire life he had been my editor-in-chief. He would always work with me through my high school and university essays. When I took a part-time assignment at the Richmond News, as a weekly columnist, my editor-in-chief came with me. He would regularly challenge me to take a clear stance, to not be vague and encouraged rich, concrete language. He was a lover of language and we would often debate the use of individual words in an 800-word column.

It became clear this past spring that my Dad’s latest health challenge, a battle with cancer, was not going to be one he would win, and about the same time that Craig Cantlie asked if I would tackle the “What is Smart?” question at the September TEDx WestVancouverED event.

So, like I had done hundreds of times before, I took the question to my Dad.  I actually wasn’t sure if I should. He was having many ups and downs health wise and having more trouble concentrating. He didn’t seem to be that interested when I first prodded him with the question. So I left it.  When I returned the next day, my Mom said my Dad had been up much of the night working on my question. So, it was out off to the back porch to sit with my Dad. I had a piece of paper and a pencil to scribble notes. Everytime I saw him, I would have that paper and pencil, waiting for those moments when the conversation would turn to ‘smart’.

This time became one of our final great conversations. My Dad was becoming weaker. But, whenever he had the energy, we would come back to talking about ‘smart’.  Pretty much every good line in my presentation was my Dad’s.  He said, “Smart is a deceptive idea if you are trying to advance a conversation” and “It gets in the way of advancing conversations.”

He was struggling with his voice and had trouble concentrating for long periods of time, but ‘smart’ was an ongoing dialogue. “It is greasy” he said, “it is a really slippery word.” At the kitchen table I remember he said, “It is a swear word – like McDonald’s.”  Growing up in our house we had a series of less conventional words that were off-limits including many of the large corporate, fast-food restaurant chains.

Our final discussion of the word focussed on how we often just throw around words because we like how they sound, without any common idea what they mean — like love, patriotism and smart.

It was quite a final project for us. I have never had to deal with someone so close to me dying. When I started talking to my Dad in June about ‘smart’ I liked the idea it was for an event in September, it gave us something to look forward to together — not too far in advance that it didn’t seem real, but something we could plan for.

My Dad died on August 3rd, but it was pretty special that we did have this final project. My September 27th ‘smart’ talk was not one of my best. I was upset that I didn’t do a better job of delivering the words my Dad had so carefully helped to sculpt with me. It was, however, very special to have that moment speaking and to be able to go back and watch the talk — the final essay of all the hundreds we had worked on together.

Thanks, Dad.

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What is Smart  A TEDx West VanccouverED presentation.

I have been tasked with answering this question, “What is Smart?” for my short TEDxWestVancouverED talk today.  The essay that is a basis for the talk is a final collaboration I wrote with my dad this past July.  The slides are at the bottom and I am sure the video will be up in a couple of weeks.  

‘Smart’ just isn’t what it used to be.  It is actually becoming passé.

In a world of knowledge scarcity, being smart was very important. Those who were smart were the people with knowledge. Others would seek out those who were smart. Smartness was in the hands of the few.  This is not just the world of centuries ago, but this was the world I grew up in.

We know who the smart people were:

  • Political leaders
  • Professors
  • Doctors, Lawyers and Teachers
  • And Jeopardy Champions – I am sure “Who is Ken Jennings” is the answer many would have given when asked about someone who was smart

Largely, these were the people who were the keeper of the facts, the smart ones with the information who would share it with others.

In school, it was those who could recall the facts, and particularly those who could recall them quickly.  If you could memorize your multiplication tables you were quickly labelled as “smart”.  Smart was a product of a system based on sorting – some kids were smart, and the other kids were . . . well, we didn’t really call them anything aloud, but the implication was that they were less than smart. And in the traditional school smart hierarchy – the matching of provinces and capital cities along with the ability to memorize weekly spelling words was the apex of smartness.

Of course, the last 20 years have moved us away from a world of knowledge scarcity to knowledge abundance; now, all manner of information is available to everyone. For better or worse, we no longer look to our political and intellectual leaders for their all-knowing guidance, we quickly check what they have said with what we read on Wikipedia, Web Doctor MD or other online information available to us.

And even our leader of smarts, Ken Jennings, was outsmarted by a computer. . . . Damn you Watson!

Really, the value of smart is not only about the move from a world of knowledge being scarce to it being abundant . . . . we are devaluing the word ourselves.  We have:

  • Smart phones
  • Smart cars
  • Smart Meters
  • And even a Smart Planet.

The word “smart” was reserved for the few, for the special, and now we attach it to the objects in our pockets.  When we say someone is smart it ends a conversation, it doesn’t start one.  The word has become greasy.  Smart has become fast food.

We are actually at a turning point in the history of smart. We either need to abandon the word for newer, more apt descriptions of the qualities and traits we value, or come to a new understanding of the word that is reflective of what we now value as smart.

And, in our schools, especially if we listen to Psychology Professor Carol Dweck, we need to get away from so often using the word, to rather encourage effort, continual improvement and a growth mindset and abandon ranking and sorting.

So, there is a good question – what is smart?  But there is also another good question, Is being smart relevant and does it still matter?

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