Confusing Technically Knowledgeable with Gifted

The fast-moving, mobile, cloud, social, gadget industry is now part of our everyday world, web and app technology is seamlessly integrated into our lives. Most readers of this blog get their daily news electronically, reading it on a desktop screen or tablet instead of from paper. Our gadgets, cars, and houses communicate with each other, outside companies, and us in ways lifted from science fiction. We are experiencing the first true wave of the Internet of things on a consumer level and it is an exciting adventure.

Students and employees who are knowledgeable about the latest apps and social media platforms, who can write code and deploy servers, who have experience on the development side of the digital world, are in high demand. In colleges across the country the numbers of classic liberal arts majors are declining while students flock to acquire the engineering and math degrees that employers value so highly. As the economy continues its long road to recovery, many employers are taking the safer bet and hiring specific skills instead of general abilities.

While technical skills are necessary in many businesses these days, the reality is that the basics of being able to evaluate and analyze data, understand the marketplace, build strong relationships with coworkers and customers, and think, are more important than ever. While it is tempting to hire the person who currently has all the correct boxes checked for skills today, it is more important to make sure they will continually learn and make the connections that will drive your business forward.

Too often we assume that folks with deep technical knowledge are smarter than those with deep knowledge in non-STEM subjects. Perhaps this is a holdover from our reverence for the engineers that sent spaceships to the moon and created the home computer and Internet revolution. Those people were and are, not typical, even within the technology industry. Engineering revolutionaries and pioneers, like most innovators, are gifted. Although anyone with strong technical knowledge is smart, and many jobs require technical knowledge, we need to refrain from assuming that one specific category of skill trumps all others. Technically knowledgeable people may or may not be gifted. Beyond mere technical skills, we need people who can see the big picture, find relationships, discover hidden needs, and anticipate paradigm shifts.

 

The Grown-Up Gifted Child

Recently I have been re-reading one of my favorite books on living with and raising gifted children, the award-winning, A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children. Early in the book there is a table that lists, “Problems Associated with the Characteristic Strengths in Gifted Children.” As I was reading this list again I realized, I know these people. The funny thing is, they aren’t kids anymore.

When gifted kids grow up they don’t usually age-out of their gifted passions, strengths, intensities, and quirks. They may learn to act in a more socially acceptable manner and they, hopefully, gain a measure of perspective and self-discipline that they lacked as children. However, the essence of who they are and how they are different stays intact. One of the big arguments in favor of programs exclusively for gifted students is that they aren’t just bright. Their brains are wired differently and while, yes, they can complete typical school work at an accelerated pace, that isn’t what defines them. They are more passionate, sensitive, and intense. Merely completing the lesson plan isn’t enough. They want to go beyond the lesson plan, or alternatively, question its basic worth. They are more driven by deeper meanings and philosophical questions than other students their age. This can make them an under-achieving, dejected, argumentative, moody pain in the wrong classroom environment or the engaged, high-performing, thoughtful student in the right classroom environment.

The same is true once they grow up. Just look at the a few of the strengths and associated issues they can create as detailed in the book.

Strength Possible Problem
Acquires and retains information quickly Impatient with slowness of others; dislikes routine and drill; may resist mastering foundation skills; may make concepts unduly complex
Ability to conceptualize, abstract, synthesize; enjoys problem-solving and intellectual activity Rejects or omits details; resists practice or drill; questions teaching procedures
Enjoys organizing things and people into structure and order, seeks to systematize Constructs complicated rules or systems; may be seen as bossy, rude, or domineering
Thinks critically; has high expectations; is self-critical and evaluates others Critical or intolerant toward others; may become discouraged or depresses; perfectionistic
Creative and innovative; likes new ways of doing things May disrupt plans or reject what is already known; seen by others as different and out-of-step
Intense concentration; long attention span in areas of interest; goal-directed behavior; persistent Resists interruption; neglects duties or people during periods of focused interest; seen as stubborn
Sensitivity, empathy for others; desire to be accepted by others Sensitivity to criticism or peer rejection; expects others to have similar values; need for success and recognition; may feel different and alienated
High energy, alertness, eagerness, periods of intense efforts Frustrated with inactivity; eagerness may disrupt others’ schedules; needs continual stimulation; may be seen as hyperactive
Diverse interests and abilities; versatile May appear scattered and disorganized; becomes frustrated over lack of time; others may expect continual competence

In the work environment these possible problems can limit opportunities, cause issues with HR, and possibly lead to terminations. Perhaps this is why many gifted individuals become entrepreneurs. As their own boss they can find the best way to work with their strengths.

In relationships, when the innate characteristics of gifted boyfriends, girlfriends, and spouses go unrecognized, unrealistic expectations from both parties can poison the partnership.

Gifted individuals need to understand themselves and how they may differ from others at home and in the workplace. Self-knowledge of natural strengths and how they can become liabilities is essential to long-term happiness and fulfillment. This information guides the grown-up gifted child in working through misunderstandings and frustrations with their significant others, at home. At work, it enables them to increase their productivity, improve relationships, and perhaps even realize when their current work place is just a bad fit and it is time to move on.

Developing self-awareness in gifted students is one of the primary goals of quality programs for the gifted. It is also one that is virtually impossible to reach when gifted “programs” consist primarily of accelerated, in-classroom, differentiation. The farther away from the mean a student is, the more likely it is that her strengths will cause her issues at some point in her life. Gifted educators need to mentor their students on how to live in and thrive in the regular world as a highly, profoundly, or exceptionally gifted individuals.