The Story Behind These 22 Common Signs of High Intelligence

Do you like to watch people? I mean study them and their common signs of high intelligence? It is a great way to learn new habits, isn’t it?

This has been a ‘hobby’ of mine for several decades now. Let me share the many common signs of intelligence I have observed.

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Talk only to share information

signs of high intelligence
Signs of high intelligence.

To them, small talk is simply that. Small. Meaningless even. It’s a waste of time.

They proactively listen to others and digest what was said before explaining their counter-argument.

They bounce ideas and hypotheses off of others rather than discuss random pop psychology or the latest news on a celebrity couple.

In short, they shamelessly focus on what’s important.


 Brutally honest with what they don’t know

I think a common trap that many people fall under is trying to pretend we understand something that we don’t know while nodding our heads meaninglessly. We do this because we don’t want to appear uninformed and unknowing. (I’m still working to improve on this myself)

I think intelligent people get straight to the point. They say “I don’t understand this, can you explain it to me like I’m 5?”

They could care less about what others perceive their understanding or intelligence to be. What they do care about is catching up and learning so that they can understand in the first place.

They know that without a solid understanding of the basics, there’s no hope for them to grasp the more complex material.

Our brain’s mental capacity is a finite resource. Eventually, our brains will deteriorate. We will learn less and more slowly as we get older. Our memories will fade. New technologies and theorems and complex formulas will make their way into the world that will be hard for us to understand due to our upbringing and complacency with the status quo.

I think intelligent people desperately embrace the fact that time is a finite resource. There’s no equivalent of a “billionaire” when it comes to a time like there is for money.

Time spent pretending is time wasted. Time spent learning and getting up to speed is time well-spent.


Consider different perspectives

Truly intelligent people have the ability to inhabit a different perspective, especially a perspective they disagree with. Abraham Lincoln would sometimes argue with a friend from one perspective, and then they would switch and argue from the opposite perspective.

signs of being intelligent
Signs of being intelligent.

 Signs of high intelligence … nothing to prove

 They never feel the need to prove to other people how smart they are. They don’t brag about it. Casual acquaintances probably don’t even know. I think this is because they are so secure about their intelligence that it’s a non-issue to them. My father went to Harvard and had a stunning memory. He never used his IQ as a way to make other people feel inferior. People who want to let everyone know how smart they are—yeah, I doubt they are.


 Have patience

  Leonardo Da Vinci called it “sfumato” or “smoke.” The idea is that not everything is clear, and the desire to have an answer now can lead someone into error. Intelligent people have patience with difficult, dense, or even ambiguous or vague subjects. Patience is defined as “the ability to endure, ” and in this case, a sign of intelligence is enduring not having a clear, definite answer.


 Know how to explain their craft

This especially applies to people who are professionals or experts in their field.

This is because they’ve been through it all. They know what it’s like to come across the topic for the first time. To progressively learn more about it as a student. To having dedicated hours studying and researching and becoming an expert.

They know what the stages of learning are, and can explain their craft to anyone in those respective stages.

Albert Einstein is well-known for saying the following quote:
“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

I believe Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk on how the education system needs to be improved showcases his immense intelligence in his field. He knows how to combine stories, humor, and facts to drive compelling and memorable lessons to the audience to help everyone, regardless of what stage they’re in, understand what’s going on.
(It’s the most viewed TED talk for a reason)


 Good listeners

 They read and go to talks. A sure sign of intelligence is reading and listening. The average CEO reads 50 books a year. Warren Buffett spends most of his time reading. He’s fond of saying “the more you learn, the more you earn.”


 Seek the truth

signs of intelligence in adults
Signs of intelligence in adults.

 It’s dialectic, not debate. Unintelligent people chomp at the bit to argue with others to push their worldview. Unintelligent people find not knowing the answers are terrifying and feel comforted that their way of thinking is right. However, intelligent people are happy to argue but do it to use conflict to discern the truth.


Continuous learners 

They read a lot and are constantly still learning. My father always took us to historical places or natural wonders during our summer vacations. Battlefields. Museums. Grand Canyon. Stuff like that. Our pleas to go to Disneyland went unheard. My father wanted to learn things on his days off—and his days on too. He not only read both fiction and nonfiction, but he also watched many documentaries.


Signs of high intelligence … seeking new perspectives

 Intelligent people aren’t afraid or ashamed to tell you when they don’t know something. I’ve had more than one doctor try and fake his way through a conversation when I knew more about a medical condition than he did. When I found a doctor, who said, “I don’t know. I’ll research that.”—I kept that doctor.


Are consistently curious

 They ask questions. I guess they realize that the way you learn things is often to ask.

Additional note: A lot of people have commented that there are lots of intelligent people with narcissistic tendencies. I’m sure this is true of all categories of people. I was making a generalization about the bulk of intelligent people. (And true, I’m limited to the sample I’ve known, even if it is a large sample.)

Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about. Because you’re reading this, I know you can read. You’re most likely confident in that ability and never feel the need to brag about it, even though you’re aware that there are hundreds of millions of people in the world who can’t read. If illiterate people cross your mind, you may feel sad that they never had the opportunity to learn. You might do something to try and help them, or you might just be glad you were luckier.

But if you met an illiterate person, you probably wouldn’t feel the need emphasize that you can read and they can’t rub in your advantages. You would consider yourself a jerk if you did that. Sure, there are people who are so insecure about themselves that they would take the opportunity to gloat about their supposed superiority, but most people wouldn’t.

That’s how most of the intelligent people I know are.


Succinct communication

Whether they are writing or speaking, communication is short and to the point. Hard to tell what is perfectly succinct but easy to tell what is not. For example, I recently received a 3 paragraph email with the task of “Does 10 am Wed work for a meeting?”

I’m sorry I wrote you such a long letter. I didn’t have time to write you a short one.



This one is scientifically proven. The most intelligent people that I’ve ever met also tend to be the quickest with humor. And the most inappropriate.
But it is hard to censor yourself when making a well-timed joke.


They never say “I’m not dumb.”

They do, however, like to point out how smart they are. Sometimes. “Back when I was in Harvard” or “As a member of Mensa” do come out of the uber intelligent, for better or worse.
The most intelligent do not do this unprompted, but do use it as a trump card if someone else is playing ‘look how smart I am.’ Then you’ll be using your wit too!


People who know

 … more than they say and think more than they speak.


 Those who take responsibilities

 of their action instead of blaming others for itNothing dumber than playing victim all the time.


 The ones who notice everything

 but remains silent. Yes, fear them.


 The ones who withhold

 their tongue faster than their thoughtsVery smart.


 Signs of being intelligent … people who remain calm

 under pressure and got their act under control even when provoked. In other words, people who are unaffected by drama and emotional outbursts.



 People who see the good outcome in every bad situation. And fix them instead of whining about it.


Common sense intelligence

  This comes from life experience or observing other people well. The latter case explains how you can come across 15 year-olds that are incredibly precocious, only to discover they are still in high school, didn’t get pregnant, and don’t do drugs. Some people do not need to make mistakes to have common sense. These people are rare and can become great business leaders or just amazing friends. They give sound advice.



The bottom line


To be effective in this new era, we as intelligent people need to see our jobs differently. No more just focusing on simple business metrics. We must successfully integrate our function with other business functions to create entire brand experiences that serve the customer all the way through their experiences throughout the business.


We can do better. Much better. But first, we need to stop seeing ourselves as crafters of clever brand messages and become creators of positive brand experiences.


There can never be enough focus on continuous improvement on intelligence, independent of how well the business is doing. It seems we all are looking to take our success to a new level. This is an excellent time to make a statement with their intelligence marketing.


Changing before you have to is always a good idea.


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Call Mike at 607-725-8240.


All you get is what you bring to the fight. And that fight gets better every day you learn and apply new ideas.


When things are not what you want them to be, what’s most important is your next step. Call today.


Test. Learn. Improve. Repeat.


Are you devoting enough energy continually improving your continuous learning?


Do you have a lesson about making your learning better you can share with this community? Have any questions or comments to add in the section below?


Mike Schoultz is the founder of Digital Spark Marketing, a digital marketing and customer service agency. With 40 years of business experience, he writes about topics to help improve the performance of small business. Find him on G+FacebookTwitter, and LinkedIn.


Digital Spark Marketing will stretch your thinking and your ability to adapt to change.  We also provide some fun and inspiration along the way. Call us for a free quote today. You will be amazed how reasonable we will be.


More reading on mentoring from Digital Spark Marketing’s Library:

Remarkable Lessons in Motivation Steve Jobs Taught Me

How to Create Honest Employee Trust and Empowerment

The Story and Zen of Getting Things Done

10 Positive Thinking Ideas from Peers and Mentors


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The Story Behind These 22 Common Signs of High Intelligence