Define smart: It goes beyond knowledge and information

Ann Zuccardy used to think that being smart depended on how much knowledge and information a person had stored in their mental framework. It was only after she suffered a mild traumatic brain injury that she figured out that being smart was not just about knowledge.

Charged with this life challenge of brain injury, she responded by finding creative solutions to her problems. In her TED Talk, she outlined three pillars of being smart. TED is a nonprofit dedicated to spreading ideas in the form of brief, meaningful talks. It started in 1984 as a conference where technology, entertainment, and design came together (hence, the acronym TED), and today covers a wide range of topics in more than 100 languages.

The three pillars of being smart, as defined by Zuccardy, have nothing to do with acquiring knowledge. This is an interesting and encouraging perspective for anyone who has had to overcome life challenges or disability. It offers hope to people who might struggle with feeling smart in a hectic, fast-paced world.

What really makes people smart, Zuccardy says, is first and foremost creative adaptive mechanisms. When she suffered from a head injury, she had trouble with daily tasks, such as going down stairs, crossing the street, and remembering what day of the week it was. She developed creative solutions to all of these problems. She had to creatively adapt to a life where these problems with daily tasks were a reality. People who find creative ways to adapt to life have a kind of smart that was only brought to the forefront in Zuccardy after her head injury.

The second tenet of being smart, Zuccardy says, is resilience. This word means having the strength to get up after you fall down. When life gives you challenges, you keep persevering and pushing forward. It means you never give up. This is an encouraging point because it focuses on the positive in what can be a negative situation. Despite troubling circumstances, you have the willpower to continue. This quality is often indicative of a successful life.

The third tenet of being smart, she says, is twofold: being creative and curious. Even people who are developmentally challenged can be smart as long as they have a hunger to learn. Being smart is not so much about how much you learn, but how much you want to learn. This offers hope to disabled people everywhere.

If you are doubting yourself, how smart you are, this video is the perfect spark of encouragement. If you are struggling to overcome an obstacle in life, this video will give you a positive outlook on what can be a challenging reality.

“I used to think that smart was about how much knowledge I had. Now, I define smart as my craving to learn,” she says. “Creative adaptive mechanisms, resilience, creativity, curiosity. This is the new smart.”


Gordon Johnson

Attorney Gordon Johnson is one of the nations leading brain injury advocates. He is Past-Chair of the TBILG, a national group of more than 150 brain injury advocates. He has spoken at numerous brain injury seminars and is the author of some of the most read brain injury web pages on the internet.

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