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Smart /smärt/; Adjective; Definition: Having or showing a quick-witted intelligence.

Synonyms: clever, bright, intelligent, sharp, sharp-witted, quick-witted, nimble-witted, shrewd, astute, acute, apt, able, well educated, well read, perceptive, percipient, discerning, brainy, savvy, streetwise, on the ball, quick on the uptake, genius, whip-smart

Intelligent /inˈteləjənt/; Adjective; Definition: Having or showing intelligence, especially of a high level.

Synonyms: clever, bright, brilliant, sharp, quick, quick-witted, quick on the uptake, smart, canny, astute, intuitive, thinking, acute, alert, keen, insightful, perceptive, perspicacious, penetrating, discerning, ingenious, inventive, knowledgeable, apt, able, gifted, talented, brainy, genius, know how many beans make five, whip smart, rational, capable of thought, higher-order

Opposite for both smart and intelligent: stupid

wunderkind little girl schoolgirl with a book from the blackboard with physical formulas

So what exactly does it mean to be smart?

Culturally speaking it’s limited to being either a good student or a successful business leader, or both.

Our cultural norms do not recognize much else as “smart.”

But is that all that being smart means?  Is it really just that you did well on all of the tests that were a measurement at a point in time in an environment that you happened to be well suited for?  Is it really just the measure of a corporate titan that they’re smart enough to have found the right company / career / line of business that capitalized on their talents when they happened to be in the right place at the right time and they were able to launch themselves into the rarefied stratosphere of corporate success?

Is that all that it is?  Is that the limit of “smart?”

Let’s pause and reject the cultural notion that the above is all that smart can mean.  Let’s examine the synonyms and see if we can find another, better meaning of the word “smart.”

If that is not the limit, then what does it mean to be smart?  And, in contrast, why is it either smart or stupid?  There’s no gray area?  Really?  It’s one extreme or the other, as defined by cultural expectation?  That’s rather unimaginative.

Unimaginative /ˌəniˈmaj(ə)nədiv/; Adjective; Definition: Not readily using or demonstrating the use of the imagination; stolid and somewhat dull.

Synonyms: Uninspired, uninventive, unoriginal, uncreative, unartistic, commonplace, pedestrian, mundane, matter-of-fact, ordinary, usual, routine, humdrum, prosaic, workaday, run of the mill, (plain) vanilla, stale, hackneyed, trite, derived, derivative, conventional, unadventurous, dull, banal, monotonous, lifeless, lackluster, sterile, uninspiring, spiritless, vapid, insipid, bland, dry, barren, flat, stodgy, hacky, gauche, insipid

Huh.  Interesting.



Ok.  Let’s take the the opposite of univentive and let’s examine the term inventive.

Inventive /inˈven(t)iv/; Adjective; Definition: Having the ability to create or design new things or to think originally.

Synonyms: creative, original, innovational, innovative, imaginative, fertile, ingenious, resourceful, artistic, inspired, gifted, talented, virtuoso, accomplished, masterly, skillful, clever, genius, unusual, fresh, novel, new, experimental, offbeat, quirky, avant garde, forward-looking, groundbreaking, unfamiliar, unorthodox, unconventional, alternative, fringe, left-field







Unorthodox /ˌənˈôrTHəˌdäks/; Adjective; Definition: Contrary to what is usual, traditional, or accepted; not orthodox.

Synonyms: unconventional, unusual, uncommon, unwonted, out of the ordinary, radical, revolutionary, nonconformist, irregular, offbeat, off-center, avant-garde, original, new, novel, fresh, eccentric, exotic, Bohemian, alternative, idiosyncratic, abnormal, extreme, divergent, aberrant, anomalous, bizarre, outlandish, off the wall, oddball, way out, dissenting, renegade

Experimental /ikˌsperəˈmen(t)l/; Adjective; Definition: Based on untested ideas or techniques and not yet established or finalized.

Synonyms: exploratory, investigational, probing, fact-finding, trial and error, trial, test, pilot, speculative, conjectural, hypothetical, empirical, observational, untested, untried.

Original /əˈrijənl/; Adjective; Created directly and personally by a particular artist; not a copy or imitation.

Synonyms: Authentic, genuine, actual, real, true, pukka, bona fide, veritable, not copied, archetypal, prototypical, master.

Opposite: fake

Uncommon /ˌənˈkämən/; Adjective; Definition: Out of the ordinary; unusual.

Based on where the definitions and synonyms are leading, one can conclude that the true meaning of “smart” is to be an unusual thinker.  To be smart is to be imaginative, to be creative, to break with the norm, to not be staid or boring.  To be smart is to push the limits of thought, to be unconventional.

How then has the meaning of smart been so turned on it’s side, that to be considered smart in a school setting means that you’ve done well on the same test that’s been administered to hundred’s of children, hundred’s of time?  To be smart means that one has conformed to a standard way of thinking and done well on one of those silly little things called a standardized assessment?  Isn’t the concept of smart to be unconventional and isn’t to be unconventional to be someone who does not fit into a box and therefore cannot be limited by definition?

The cultural definition of smart in a corporate setting is closer to the meaning of smart, as it means one was a creative problem solver, skilled at finding the unconventional solution to the problem, and successful at selling that solution to their higher-ups.  There is a certain amount of luck that comes along with becoming a corporate titan.  Luck comes in the varying forms of connections, right place right time, right school, right lots of things in various order at various times.

The point is that we do not foster “smart” as a true concept, but as a bastardized cultural expectation.  This irreverent form of “smart” is valued in our education system, as we try to mold children into fitting in various boxes that they may or may not be made for, but the conditioning happens none the less.  Sadly it’s our dyslexic children, our non-normative thinkers, who defy this system and stand out like sore thumbs, and in their uniqueness, in their creativeness, their unorthodox selves that they crash against the rocks of conformity and both can and do shatter.

There is so much we strive to change.  We want the beauty and wonder of each individual child to be valued, to be challenged and to have their “smart” unleashed.

By not unleashing, we prevent the type of thought and inventiveness that shaped our world because our world has been shaped by the dyslexic mind.  Whether we can prove key historical figures as dyslexic or not, unconventional thinking is what propels society forward, through king making, invention, science, etc.  We would live in a very different world without the innovations that came from the dyslexic mind.

Have you heard of MIND Strengths?  Drs. Brock and Fernette Eide of Dyslexia Advantage talk about this in their book.

M-Strengths – Material Reasoning – Reasoning about the Physical or Material World.  Includes spatial thinking, visual thinking and imagination.  M Careers include Architect, Artists, Builders, Computers IT, Designers, Engineers, Filmmakers, Sailors, Surgeons, Pilots.

I-Strengths – Interconnected Reasoning – Ability to spot connections between different ideas, objects, or different points of view.  Includes interconnected thinking, pattern detection and big picture.  I Careers include Acting, Chefs, Doctors, Historians, Inventors, Museum Directors, Scientists, Software Design.

N-Strengths – Narrative Reasoning – Reasoning and learning with stories.  Includes Storyteller, Personal Memory and Scene Creation.  N Careers include Authors, Coaches, Counselors, CEOs, Lawyers, Marketers, Ministers, Musicians, Politicians, Psychologists, Sales, Teachers.

D-Strengths – Dynamic Reasoning – Reasoning in complex and changing environments, mental simulation, and ability to predict the future.  Includes Goal Directed, Future Prediction, Complex Systems.  D Careers include Accountants, CEOs, Doctors, Economists, Entrepreneurs, Farmers, Game Designers, Investors, Strategists, Traders.

Truly, we must rethink “smart.”  We lose too much if we don’t.

So on that note, I want to leave you with some unconventional beauty from some pretty unique minds.

Meet Vinnie (  Vinnie is a dyslexic artist, and look at what Vinnie can do with K’Nex.



I can’t even begin to wrap my head around how to do this.  There is absolutely no way on this green Earth that I could even begin to fathom how the structure would even begin to create this.  Vinnie is creative, original, innovative, imaginative, and clearly has off the charts spatial awareness.

Watch this film:

My body has never moved that way.  Very few bodies can.  Lil Buck is gifted.  His dance stirs the soul.  It is beautiful in every way.  It is inspiring.

Follow this link:

Rachel Deane is a dyslexic artist.  I discovered her through this piece:

“We know lots of facts about dyslexia: It’s the most common reading disorder. It changes the way millions of people read and process information.

But we know much less about how it feels to people who have it. How it shapes your self-image, your confidence and how people see and react to you.

And so I reached out to some really creative people — artists who have dyslexia — to talk about this.

One of the most fascinating things I heard is that dyslexia plays a big role in their creative process. Some said their struggle with written words informs their art, and that the struggle to express ideas they can’t in writing makes their art unique.”

Willard Wiggan is a dyslexic micro-artist.  See his amazing work here:

Note in the examples above, both dyslexic and perhaps non dyslexic, these individuals are breaking the “norm” of what is creative.  They have broken through what is the norm with courage and through innovation, experimentation, imagination and fearlessness, have taken art to another level.

“Some of the greatest inventions and breakthroughs in our history have come from a dyslexic mind’s refusal to accept the status quo.” – Josh Clark, Head of School, Schenck School, Atlanta, GA, USA


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