What does it mean to be smart?

Termites and squirrels are successful. They’ve persisted through millennia, and they do things to survive that we could never figure out. They have good instincts. But they’re not smart, not smart in the sense that we hope a leader or a colleague will be.

That kind of smart requires you to be open about how you do your work, how you make choices and the sort of change you seek to make in the world. There’s no need for a smart person to change the story or be evasive or lie, because that’s not part of being smart.

You want a smart heart surgeon, because she can tell you precisely why she’s going to do one procedure instead of another one.

This kind of smart also requires domain knowledge. Smart people have done the reading, and they understand what has come before. They know that history doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes. And they’re not interested in making a mistake that they could have avoided with informed preparation.

And a smart person, in addition to revealing their methods and goals, and being alert as to what works, most of all, will change their methods and goals based on what they’ve learned.

Look around you. If you’re seeing buildings that don’t fall down, public health systems that are functioning and products that delight you, it’s because a smart person did the difficult work of creating them.