let's talk about intelligence today



I have been fascinated with computers since early age. I remember getting my first Windows PC when I was 12 years old. I remember opening my first email account, the first time I used Google. So many hours spent on trying different WordArt on MS Word. And I remember, as a kid, thinking how intelligent these people would be. Folks who would write operating systems, or apps like Word, Excel, or Google, or Games. I thought they must be different. I remember when I was preparing for IIT, I thought the folks who would qualify for CS in IITs should be made of something else. Then I came out of college, after two years in 2014, there was a wave of startups with millions in fundings and valuations. Again, I thought that these folks would know something which I don't know. Around 2015, when I started web dev related freelancing and created my first full stack app, I used to see apps like Flipkart, BookMyShow and I would go to their job openings, the job descriptions had words I had never heard of. I saw folks from Flipkart talk in conferences and I was awed! Every damn time, I thought that these folks are just way more intelligent.

As an individual we always think that someone who is doing something which is coveted must be really gifted or super intelligent. Do you see how in the backstory I am using past tense? I was sitting one day and thinking about my own progress and then these thoughts came rushing. I am everything which I once thought required supreme intelligence. I work in Microsoft, on one of the most complicated web apps, I give talks in international conferences. I hang out with folks who have raised millions and know their struggles, sometimes even give them advice. Granted I haven't gone to IITs for CS degree, but I work with them everyday, I interview folks from there routinely. Question which I asked myself, do I feel super intelligent now? Do I think that somehow I am more intelligent than that average Tanay from 2015, or 2012, or 2008 (who wasn't good enough to secure a good rank even in MIT Manipal to get CS)?

Well, if you read till here and I answer the last question with a Yes, I know it will be anti-climactic. Anyway, the answer is an absolute NO. I don't think I am more intelligent. You can jump and say, "I know where this is going, it's about hard work isn't it?". To that I would say, "Yes! but mostly no". I promise I'll conclude this thought thread soon. Before that let's answer another dangling question in your mind?

Takeaway: Is someone successful because he is somehow more intelligent than the rest of us?

why are we talking about this?

We were in the middle of a freelance series. Writing is looking back at your soul and trying to find answers. All of you sent me so many questions regarding the series. Waiting for the perfect way to start your learning, or your freelancing journey. And that made me think about it way more. If I was starting freelancing today, instead of 2014, would I do it differently, yes, obviously! So, what changed? Am I more intelligent now? Again, the answer is No. Then? Before we go forward there is another reason we are talking about this.

If you follow me across social media, you know I am mildly famous now. It was my birthday on 30th June, btw, that's why I missed last Tuesday, I gave myself off! Anyway, this habit of getting side tracked is bad, I don't know how you read this and follow my train of thoughts. Coming back to birthday, tons of wishes came through all the channels: Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, TG group. It was overwhelming. It was heartwarming. A lot of wishes said that my work inspires them and they wish to be as successful as I am some day. Some of these wishes talked about how they liked the videos, podcasts and this current freelance series, complimenting my "intelligence". There it was the second trigger.

Third and last trigger came this weekend. You know how when you think about something the Universe presents different ideas suddenly. I started watching Sherlock, after a long time I binge watched something. And I was trying to decode the intelligence there as well. Is Sherlock intelligent? Granted it's a mythical character and can have any super power as deemed by the author but the series tries to make him human to make him relatable. We will get back to it. My God! threads are all over the place!

Takeaway: Sherlock, birthday wishes and the pressure to write a freelance series which can help anyone get started pushed me into writing this first.

intelligence as an excuse

Here's what I think about intelligence. A lot of people I know use intelligence as an excuse. You see someone who's great at something, you ask that person how can you be that person. This is how the conversation goes:

You: I like how successful you are! How can I become like you?
Successful Person(SP): Oh! This isn't success. Just work hard. 10,000 hours and everything will work out.
You: * This can't be true, if 10,000 hours was the trick anyone could be successful, he must be really intelligent *

And this is where we trick ourselves. This exact point. My upcoming book on productivity talks about how we are lazy because our brain wants us to be, because evolution has made us lazy by natural selection. Anyway, at this point you think this can't be true. You have read the success story and it almost seemed magical. Yes, it did, because whenever someone is sharing their story they talk about how brave they were in the face of failures, or how they got lucky, or how they refused to give up. All these things make for a good story. Batman is famous coz somewhere in his story you think you can do it too. Any zero to hero movie has a 3 minute training montage with some pumping background music and voila! we have our hero who beats the crap out of the villain. Real life is different from stories. There's no Chosen One here. But at the same time things are not as romantic as them seem in any story.

I will tell you how I wrote a few blogs and got a job interview at Microsoft. Or how those blogs were helping me get clients in my freelance gig. You will write the same number of blogs, and it won't work out. You'll give up, saying, "Maybe it worked for Tanay coz he's so intelligent". I think this is how we trick ourselves, we always use intelligence, luck, discipline, hard working as the excuse to get out. I work/know the best of the best folks and trust me no one is inherently intelligent, they all struggle with discipline and hardwork and so do I. I think the point I am trying to make is that you have to stop giving excuses to not pursue your dream. Do let me know if you too relate to this feeling of using some paranormal thing as an excuse instead of saying that you failed because you're simply giving up!

Takeaway: Stop using intelligence as an excuse. No one is more intelligent, lucky, hardworking or disciplined than you.

okay, what exactly is intelligence then?

See, if you see anyone who's intelligent by normal standards, their IQ wouldn't be a lot different from yours. However, I am going to talk about my case. As all of this started with me. I don't think I am intelligent. However, many times my own genius trumps me. It leaves me and people around me thinking, "Wow! this solution is awesome!". If you're looking at me from far away, with the Microsoft tag, and thousands of followers, you would know even less about my failures.

So, I dissected it until I got the answer. People working at Google, Microsoft, Apple etc. are not intelligent. They are just good at what they do. How do you become good at what you do? You develop a knack for your work. People call it gut feeling, intuition. But all of this is nothing but training for your neural network to think faster and better. What people think as intelligence is not God's gift. No, it's not. It's just that they have tried to fail so many times that now they know which way is successful. And this builds everyday. Every day, when you wake up, push yourself an inch out of your comfort zone. Not too much. When these folks push themselves too much out of their comfort zone they fail too. For example, every new year, or Monday, I see my "intelligent" colleagues making resolutions to go to gym and then fail miserably. If we all were so intelligent we would know that fat and sugar destroys our body and we would not eat it. If we were all so "hard working" we would all have six packs, or would be playing guitar. People are intelligent, disciplined, hard working in just one area.

The point I am trying to make is that what we see as "intelligence" is just repeated practice but a little deliberate where you push yourself out of your comfort zone, again, the key is, a little.

I can give you 100 talismans which worked for me. I was lucky it worked for me, it might not work for you. But what we see as luck is actually made of 1000s of variables. My blog worked because I knew how to write, as I have been writing since I am a kid. If I ask someone who has never published a para out to write a blog and make him/her expect freelancing gigs and job offers it won't work. What worked for me, worked for me because I have been training (okay not training, but trying) all my life to do it. I play to my strengths. You need to learn to play to your strengths. What if you have no strength? Then build it. Inch by Inch. But never give up because someone is more "intelligent"

Takeaway: Intelligence is nothing but the result of pushing yourself an inch towards uncomfortable zone everyday.

so what happened to the freelance series

Last Wednesday, I updated on Twitter and LinkedIn that I worked for 20 hours straight. It was an honest update, it was not there to get likes/comments etc. But the response was eye opening. People commenting that yeah! that's how one should work and how it was totally relatable and what not. This made me realize that I had accidentally put up a wrong update. I don't want folks to work 20 hour days coz I am putting it up. Hell! I don't even want people to notice that. I shared coz I share a lot. This whole incident however made me realize that my words have consequences. And before I get people start following whatever stupid advice I was going to give for the freelance marketing, I wanted this to be out. That there are things which could work for me and not for you. And in no way any of it is an endorsement that you should try my way only.

Understand that no one way is perfect. So, this entire piece was to reduce some pressure off me. Honestly, I think I have got too many followers for a simple human being that I am. Trust me, I am not the most intelligent person out there. And if you have been reading along, you know that no one is. That's why you should not get health advice from a businessman.

I don't know about you, but writing this has taken a lot of pressure off me. I feel relaxed. If it helped you, let me know. The next newsletter should be about choosing your freelance stack. Needless to say, how to choose your freelance stack and then learning path is just one way of thinking and not the only way.

Thanks for reading my rant.
Awaiting your reply on this one.

P.S. Spoiler alert for the Sherlock series ahead. My analysis on Sherlock is same. All three Holmes siblings were intelligent when they were kids, but they trained their brains to do more deductions, to read more. In the entire series, you would see Sherlock increasing his knowledge, doing weird experiments on dead bodies and what not. Author is trying to tell you that what we perceive as genius is training since childhood. He still has a mind palace, which is a well known memory technique to store information, and he has to put things in it when he's reading it. It's just that when you and I read something, we don't go to our mind palace and put it there.