What is it like to interview a very smart person? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.

Answer by Shane Greenstein, Professor in the Technology Operations and Management unit at the Harvard Business School, on Quora:

Seen many smart people over the years, and I usually define that as someone whose synapses seem to be firing much more frequently than everybody else's. A few things about a smart person usually stands out:

  • A very smart person expresses their ideas with remarkable clarity, and it appears to be effortless.
  • A very smart person can go from ten thousand feet to the ground and back. They can focus on a detail at one moment, and place it in an appropriate broad category in another, and then go back to detail or a bigger idea, or wherever the conversation takes them.
  • A smart person speaks in grammatically correct sentences.
  • The person's speech does not contain verbal ticks, such as "you know" or "like" or "know what I mean?" and that person avoids lazy phrases, such as "etc." or "and so on."
  • When confronted with a new situation they ask questions that efficiently get to the heart of the unaddressed issues.
  • It is not uncommon for a very smart person to see deeply into a problem and say things that indicate such depth, even when they are not widely understood, and their insight only becomes apparent long after the fact.
  • Smart people are a constant source of surprises -- in their ideas, in their wordplay, in their questions, or in some other way. Whatever fuels their smarts cannot be corralled, and leads to unpredictable moments (at least to mere mortals).
  • There is always something about an intelligent person that you cannot quite put your finger on. It is just out of reach, and it makes them inscrutable.
  • Finally, this needs to be said: Smart has little to do with self-awareness or character. Some smart people are humble, polite, and empathetic, and others are arrogant, impertinent, and domineering. Some feel no need to show off, while others are so infantile they make sure everyone in the rooms knows how smart they are. Smart is about how fast the brain works, not about the wisdom of the efforts to which those brain thoughts are put to use.

 

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Published on: Nov 18, 2016