I have always believed that I’m not very intelligent OR Math & Me

It started when I was quite young – maybe at an age that I cannot really recall. Somewhere some time when the brain was still mushy I found adding two plus two to be difficult and that was that – I have been stupid ever since.

downloadGrowing up in India, if you weren’t good at math you were an “arts” type, which really meant stupid and loser. You could become an engineer or a doctor. You had to be good at math. The more complex the math that you were good at, the more intelligent you were, and the life you’d have would be so much better than the life the stupid person would have.

When I met my husband, my sister asked me, “So is he like smart?” And I proudly said, “He has a Bachelor’s in Math and now he’s doing his MBA.”

It was the math part I was really proud of (and there was an earring in one ear but that’s a different blog). No one could say that Amulya hooked up with a dumbo because anyone who has “studied” math successfully in university must be smart.

As I started to grow up and started to have employment I would have these “leadership” courses and other training where they would give you feedback on your personality and more often than not, I would hear, “You’re obviously very bright and very sharp. Lots of energy and enthusiasm, but….” (Yes, there’s always a “but” because you have gone for said training course to improve.) I surmised that they were all being polite. They were saying nice things to me so they could get to the “but.”

Who’s smart?

As I work in thimagese corporate world and get older, I’m quite conscious of who I am and what I am good at. I’m pretty sharp, I’ll take that one. I’m also very energetic and enthusiastic. I’m creative and articulate. I’m confident. I’m not in love with Excel sheets. I can look at an Excel sheet. I can glean data from it. I don’t like it. I passionately hate Pivot tables and when someone says we made x money last year and we made y money this year, boy did we grow by z percent – I can at the top of my head calculate the z…but not always.

But if you want to market a product, develop a customer care program or a marketing strategy or tell a story about the friendship between a Danish beekeeper and an Afghan refugee– I can do that.

Guess who’s smarter? It’s still the people who can do the numbers. I asked someone about colleague John Doe and said, “How is this guy getting ahead?” And the answer was, “He’s really good with numbers. Big Boss likes him.”

It’s the damned numbers again. I’m nearly 40 years old, doing fairly well and I’m still wondering if I’m stupid because when people say stuff like EBITDA and blah blah, it sounds like blah blah to me.

Emotional Intelligence

Diagram of emotional intelligenceRecently, I went for an INSEAD course called Learning to Lead. Besides the fact that the course was fun, they also took us out to a Michelin-star restaurant in Fontainebleau. No complaints.

We discussed leadership and of course we discussed CEOs. What does it take? Who becomes one? Et cetera. One of the things many CEOs have in common is that they had very high IQs. I passionately detest those logic tests where you have four shapes and you need to say what the fifth one would look like and you have 25 seconds. I’d rather like the 25 seconds to critique a piece of literature or pick my nose.

So I spoke with the professor (who was incidentally also ethnically Indian) and she said that she has learnt to do complex statistics and well because she needs to do it for her research but it’s not her happy place.

And then she told me something that stuck, “The best leaders have emotional intelligence.”

There are other ways to be intelligent

Emotional Intelligence is our ability to recognize, evaluate and control our own emotions but also those of others and of groups. My therapist had talked to me about Skillful Will, which I think is in the same ballpark.

At the end of the day – it’s not just about being able to do complex calculus – it’s the ability to be self-aware and to be sensitive to others and then…use this intelligence to control and maneuver.

Do I have emotional intelligence? I think so, to an extent and like all other brain functions this is another that you have to exercise and then develop. Continuous improvement as they say when you live the Kaizen way.

So I have started to stick my head in a Financial Excel sheet so I get comfortable with it. It will never be my happy place but it shouldn’t be the place where the monsters live either.