Thursday, April 14, 2011


By the age of nine, I had been witness to my parents being asked to take me out of school; by then I had also attempted to run away from home, twice; and to add insult to injury, I had been caught ripping car monograms and had seen the insides of a police station before blowing out 10 candles on my birthday cake.

I have supportive parents and some very good friends, who did their best to hold me high but the education system of the time had swallowed me whole and then it spat me out like a bite of rotten wretchedness. Year after year, my report card would say that I was hopeless at math, terrible at chemistry and uninterested in physics. My teachers would push the dreaded document under my nose with an expression that seemed to sway violently between a deep sense of disgust and resignation. I was always at the top of the class when it came to languages or history but I didn’t know it then. No one told me. It didn’t matter…

They told me I was a loser. I believed them.

Christopher Langan had started talking in sentences in his sixth month. He could read at four and at 14 he had read his way past a tome as forbidding and doleful as Whitehead and Russell’s Principia Mathematica. Inside his rather large head throbs a brain with the intellectual might of Samson. Ever since his childhood, Langan has been smashing IQ (IntelligenceQuotient) tests and he oft en scores ‘off the charts’, which means most IQ tests aren’t equipped to test such stratospheric levels of intelligence. He would crack language tests and math problems with equal ease and got ‘a perfect SAT score’.

To give you a sense of perspective, while most of us would be lucky to score about a 100 in an IQ test, Albert Einstein, the man who remains the intellectual standard for the human race had an IQ of about 150. And Christopher Langan with an IQ of 195 or thereabouts announced himself to the world as the smartest man of our times.

He was marked for greatness and he knew it.

Vincent didn’t need to be told he was a loser. He knew it. He had failed at everything he ever tried.

Whenever Vincent fell in love, he was spurned and rejected with disdain. It was his lot to be scorned and despised as an abomination by every woman he confessed his love to. When he tried to be a teacher, he failed. When he tried to be a preacher, he failed. And when he went to study art, Vincent was turned down yet again.

But, in his heart raged a passion that wouldn’t be denied. Eventually, Vincent gave in and started painting. Flames and forests, and flowers and trees, they all burst forth onto the canvas with a repressed fury. And yet the world around him refused to notice.

Depressed and alone, Vincent Van Gogh shot himself. He was 37. He died of his wounds, unrecognised and unknown.

Years after school, I find myself in a class room again. But this time, my flesh isn’t crawling under my skin. This time, while walking into the classroom, instead of feeling like a French nobleman, brought bound and gagged to the guillotine, past an angry crowd of partisans, I feel like a matador entering the bull ring. The task is daunting, but I feel prepared. The audience was expectant and appreciative. I was nervous but I was excited. I was teaching a class, about the CALL (The role of Creativity Attitude Logic and Language in communication) and the class I was teaching was a class of teachers. I had come a long way from those unhappy days in school. Forgive me if I sound smug or pompous but it really isn’t the idea, I’m only trying to paint a contrast. The point is how did I get to be where I was? How did a boy earmarked for failure end up as a man whose thoughts might matter to a whole bunch of his peers who were all rather successful professionals with scholastic records far more impressive than mine?

Well, I got here thanks to an opportunity that was almost thrust my way right after school. I had always wanted to be a cricketer and that’s all I thought I was good for, but then fate conspired with circumstance and I found myself in a B-school class room attending an integrated BBA programme.

I did not expect much, either of myself or from the programme. And yet, as the days rolled by, I felt that for all these years I had been trying to fit in, like paint trapped inside a bottle. But here, for the first time, I felt that there was faith, and there was freedom. Our teachers encouraged us to discover our true nature through the framework of a curriculum that covered the length and breadth of human achievement and helped us appreciate not just our innate uniqueness but also gave us the independence to help us find ways and means of expressing that uniqueness in a manner that created social, and therefore commercial, value.

No longer was I paint cooped up in a bottle. I had been liberated, splashed out on canvas and free to be what I wanted to be, whether it be the rays of the rising sun or the mane of a prancing horse.

It was here that I learnt that it didn’t matter if I wasn’t a genius at cracking convergent (a test of logical sift ing and arriving at the one correct answer, like solving most mathematical tests and most school-level question papers) problems. I could generate equal levels of social value, and interest, if I could be good at solving divergent (a test of creative comprehension, expression and integration, like for instance developing an advertising campaign) problems instead.

I owe a big debt of gratitude to the institution and the idea of business education that introduced me to the possibilities and the potential that lie within all of us, and for the realisation that each of us indeed is a diamond in the rough.

It is an institution and an education system that needs to understand people and their greatest motivations, and therefore it is only natural for such a system to identify that it doesn’t matter if we aren’t blessed with exceptionally high IQs. What we really need to live fulfilling, prosperous and happy lives is a high dose of EQ (Emotional Quotient) instead. Read that as the ability to relate to and understand our own selves as much as the ability to understand the feelings and motivations of others. To live such a fulfilling life, you would also need what Malcolm Gladwell and Robert Sternberg call ‘practical intelligence’ – the ability to read situations and emotions and to act in a manner that would elicit a desired response. It is the ability to build a bridge between your thoughts and ideas and the world’s ability to value and appreciate them.

However, unlike IQ, practical intelligence isn’t a genetic gift . And nor does it imply that just because you have a high IQ, you would automatically also be good with practical intelligence. In fact, practical intelligence is a consequence of culture, upbringing and education. The family is the best source of practical intelligence but what’ll come a close second is a B-school education that invests in you with lots of faith, focus and freedom. Unfortunately, Vincent Van Gogh never had such an education and neither did Christopher Langan. Which is why in spite of his obvious genius, Van Gogh failed to inspire or impact lives while he was around while Langan, his amazing intellect notwithstanding, has been unable to find acceptance or an opportunity and nor does he seem to have the ability to reach out and share his genius with the world.

Today Christopher Langan, the world’s smartest man, after dropping out of college and spending his adult years working as a construction worker and as a bouncer in a bar, spends his time on a ramshackle horse ranch. He gets invited on reality shows as an intellectual oddity and that is the extent of his impact on our world. It’s a crying shame and an unfortunate irony that lesser mortals like us have been able to maximize our limited talents and share them with those around us, creating our own little waves and ripples on the shared surface of our lives while those with gifts far greater than ours have been living lives frustrated by their sky-high IQs trapped inside their limited practical intelligence.

Now if only someone could get Chris Langan some faith and freedom and a B-school education.


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