YOU ARE PROBABLY SMARTER THAN YOU THINK…Improve by becoming a Socratic Scribbler

YOU ARE PROBABLY SMARTER THAN YOU THINK…Improve by becoming a Socratic Scribbler

Maybe you think you are not so smart. Maybe a teacher told you that you do not have a well endowed IQ or that your college entrance exam barely qualifies you for Loser U. I would not worry too much about it. We all know lots of test score smarties who turned out to be big time dummies in business and life.

Smart people are “go to” people

In the real world, we all know how to evaluate smarts. We do it all the time as we make decisions about who are the “go to” people” in our lives. We are always in search of the “go to” people that can help us move forward in life.

Who are these “go to” people? The people who know how to do stuff: how to repair things and relationships, how to help you when you are in trouble or how to celebrate when it’s time to have fun. Who do you go to when you need to fix your car, to get advice on dealing with a sassy teenager, to get a promotion at work, to save money on your taxes, to housebreak your dog, hto recover from a heart attack, to say a prayer , and most importantly, to make a good cocktail.

By this standard, go to people are not just people who can answer questions, they are the people who know the right questions to ask in the first place

Smart means asking and answering the right questions

People are smart in different ways. The guy who can fix your car may not do so well on Jeopardy, and Jeopardy winner may well be a terrible cook or parent. Your go to car Mechanic Maisie will start by asking you “What’s the problem?” Car won’t start! Maisie will look at certain parts of the car. She probably won’t start with the tail light; more likely, she will open the hood and ask you to try and start. She will look at some parts that she can recognize as the ignition system. Based on her knowledge of your kind of car, she will look for particular places that are likely to have problems or create disconnections. She might take out a tool to tighten or test something. In effect, she is asking your car questions. In a few minutes, Maisie will grimmace and say. “Can fix it for $750.”

How to learn the right questions to ask

Cognitive psychologists use the fancy word “heuristics” to describe the mental procedures people like Maisie the Mechanic use to solve problems. Do you remember learning anything about this in school? I don’t. I do remember wanting to take courses in learning how to become a better thinker. I took a course in Logic, which turned out to be a math course in disguise. I took a course in Making Better Decisions which turned out to be statistics course in risk management. I took a course in psychology which mapped out the locations in my brain where I was driven to kill, eat, copulate, or flee.

The 2500 year old secret to better thinking

Being the lucky victim of a jesuit education, I was forced to take a philosophy course. I was required to read a dialogue by Plato called The Meno in which Socrates tries to impress people by showing an uneducated “slave boy” how to come up with the solution to doubling the size of a square by using the diagonal. It seemed like a magic trick. Here Socrates gets an illiterate young boy to solve a difficult geometry problem just by asking him a few questions. When asked how he did it, Socrates responded that the slave boy was actually born with all kinds of knowledge that he did not know he had. By asking the right questions, Socrates was able to “midwife” and give birth this knowledge from the boy. Socrates was telling us that we are all pregnant with knowledge we don’t know that we have.

The power of collecting and sorting

In another dialogue called Phaedrus Socrates tells us his special way of coming up with questions, which he called dialectics. Basically, he starts with any question of interest, then he collects everything that he think connects in some way with that question, then he asks how those things are connected or disconnected from each other. What do they all share, what makes them different from everything else, and how to they connect? Do they belong to same or different groups? Are they mapped or spaced out in a particular way? Is one a cause and another an effect? Yes, he’s asking the same basic questions as the Maisie the Mechanic!

Finding our midwives

The slave boy did not develop his math smarts on his own. He needed a “midwife” like Socrates. Where we can we find midwives? From our own go to people. Want to learn how to bake a cake. Find someone who already knows. Watch one of those baking shows on cable. Read a book. Watch a video! Take notes. Become a Socratic Scribbler.

Socratic Scribbler?

That’s what I call people who, like Socrates, think things through by asking and answering questions. You start with one question and begin to realize that you cannot answer that question until you answer some other questions as well. One question leads to another and another and… Wait! How do you know when to stop? When you’ve answered the question that got you going.

Follow your interests

If there is one self evident truth in life, it is that we must start where we are. You cannot be interested in something you are not. Start with your interests and passions and get smarter by teaching yourself the right questions to ask.

Learn how to pick brains.

One way to become a Socratic Scribbler is to get a bunch of index cards and use them to ask and answer questions that interest you. Use the top line for questions and the rest of the card for the answer. This way, you can pick the brains of others by interviewing them with your questions or by reading their books, collecting questions and answers as you go. And do not forget to pick your own brain. Be your own Socrates. Ask yourself questions, and answer them. You’ll be amazed how many smart things are buried there. You will collect a lot of cards. You will sort them and put them in the order that makes sense to you. Then, you will be one very smart, “go to” friend.

Look for advice on writing and thinking from the Socratic Scribbler

I used to Socratic Scribbler method throughout my lifetime in advertising, finally ending up as Head of Creative Strategy at a big agency called JWT. Because I am such a strong advocate of the Socratic way of asking answering questions, I have given lot of thought to how this method can change our lives for the better. And, I’ll be writing them as Socratic Scribbler Scrolls for those of you who find these reflections useful. I will talk about you can use the Socratic Scribbler index card method to keep a journal, map out a strategy, take notes on your reading, write a love letter, find a job, and generally do well and have fun. I hope you’ll join me on the Socratic Scribbler adventure.

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