The idea in 60 seconds

  • The concept of intelligence can be sliced and diced in many ways.
  • One way is to distinguish Crystalline and Fluid intelligence.
  • Fluid intelligence is essentially IQ – it tends to reduce over time, with age.
  • Crystalline intelligence is the sum of all the information and lessons you’ve learned along the way. This type of intelligence tends to increase with age.
  • One of the ideas I have picked up over the years is Metcalfe’s law.
  • Tie those 3 concepts together, and it seems old age might be more fun than I previously thought it might be.

There are different types of intelligence

I’ve always been interested in how plausible it is to actually figure out whether someone is intelligent. Dictionary definitions of the word suggest the trait enables someone to recall, manipulate and use information in the pursuit of a goal. (Which raises a natural question – What if Einstein didn’t have a goal? He would still be intelligent, right?)

Some will tell you that there are 8 types of intelligence. I personally think Emotional Intelligence is the most important. I know some people who didn’t try, and/or didn’t do well at school, who are friendly, positive and exceptionally good with people – and they’ve done very well for themselves ‘in the real world’.

Fluid vs Crystalline Intelligence and growing your intelligence

When I studied psychology at the Open University, I was introduced to the notion that there is another way of categorizing intelligence.

  1. Fluid Intelligence:
    How flexible your thinking is. Your ability to solve problems. This generally drops off as you get older.
  2. Crystalline Intelligence:
    The sum of all your life experience. Obviously, your experience grows as you get older.

(Read the definition of fluid and crystalline intelligence here.)

To become more intelligent with age, then, you want to add more to your experience than you lose – in terms of your processing speed.

It seems, to me, that you collect ideas as you go through life, and you could think of each idea as a node in a network.

The theory of Crystalline Intelligence says that each idea you gather as you age adds to your intelligence.

The theory of Crystalline Intelligence suggests that you gather ideas as you get older.

Metcalfe’s law and combining ideas

Metcalfe’s law simply says that the value of a network is proportional to the number of nodes squared.

It is one of the main reasons internet companies trend towards being monopolies.

In simple terms, if you’re the only person who is on Facebook, it’s not very useful. If you’re the only person who is not on Facebook, the value of you adding yourself to the social media network is huge.Metcalfe’s law says that the power of a network is proportional to the number of nodes in it, squared.
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Networks reach a point of critical mass after which they’re both useful and self sustaining.

Metcalfe’s law says that the total value of all those ideas is proportional to the square of their number. That is, every new idea you collect doubles the value of the network of concepts you hold in your brain.

Final words – Is all this what creates a good entrepreneur?

The HBR says that the factors most likely to make someone successful as an entrepreneur are intelligence, tenacity, age and timing. Apparently, you’re far more likely to be a successful entrepreneur in your mid 40s.

I wonder if that’s because, at that age, you have all three of the things you need from your brain:

  • Your cognitive processing capabilities are still strong;
  • You’ve amassed enough life lessons, theories, models, facts and experience; and
  • All of those nodes have been combined through Metcalfe’s law to reach a critical mass.

All of which help you create something valuable to others which you can sell for a profit.

Determining whether someone is intelligent based on one concept alone – someone’s ability to recall, manipulate and use information in the pursuit of a goal – does not seem plausible. Intelligence is too delicate a trait to decipher so easily. Combining all three concepts – Fluid, Crystalline, and Metcalfe’s Law – makes for a more plausible take on how intelligence can be measured.