Too Dumb, too Smart, or Just Out of Alignment?

It would be nice to think that as a species we are forever improving. Stronger, faster, smarter. But what if we aren’t? What if we have passed our evolutionary mental zenith and are now on the down side?

Matt Ridley explored this for The Wall Street Journal concluding:

’Has brain size stopped increasing?’ For a process that takes millions of years, any answer about a particular instant in time is close to meaningless. Nonetheless, the short answer is probably ‘yes.’”

“This neither worries nor surprises me. We ceased relying upon individual brain power tens of thousands of years ago. Our civilization now gets all its inventive and creative power from the linking of brains into networks. Our future depends on being clever not individually, but collectively.”

Immediately concerning is the belief that less clever people will collectively drive the inventive and creative future of our civilization. This “yes, we are losing money on each item, but we will make up for it in volume” argument is in and of itself proof of our decline.

The SunLight Foundation looked at one such collective – the United States Congress – and found that based on an analysis of the congressional records, our elected officials now speak almost a full grade level lower than just seven years ago.

The Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution and Declaration of Independence at above a grade 15 level. They were admittedly well educated compared to the average person at the time.

Today, Congress is speaking at a 10th grade level and the average American reads at between an 8th and 9th grade level. So, are our leaders getting dumber or, as a more pleasant alternate theory, is congress simply communicating more effectively?

Like communicating and listening, teaching and learning are two sides of the same coin. If the level of teaching greatly exceeds the ability or desire to learn, there is likely to be no learning at all. If it falls short of ability or desire, the same outcome occurs.

Already recognized as one of the more important aspects of any experience marketing, it is more and more important that your content align to your audiences’ needs and desires at the time they are consuming it.

How are you ensuring you are not at too high a level for the audience who wants 8th grade simplicity, or too low a level for the audience who wants advanced knowledge? As the caretaker, this audience alignment is crucial.

Knowledge and Intelligence

Education has changed greatly since the birth of the three R’s in 1825. In fact, so much so that some have proposed they be changed from Reading Writing and Arithmetic to Relating, Representing, and Reasoning. (No comment on the “trickery” of the original 3 R’s that has lead a few to believe them to be Reading, Riting, and Rithmatic.)

Yet more than reflecting a change in education, this proposed change mirrors the distinctions between Knowledge and Intelligence. The knowledge to read, write, and calculate arithmetic is not an alternative to the intelligence to relate, represent, and reason. They are complementary.

Knowledge has been defined as a familiarity with something, such as facts, information, descriptions, or skills acquired through experience or education.

Intelligence as “abstract thought, understanding, self-awareness, communication, reasoning, learning, having emotional knowledge, retaining, planning, and problem solving”

Are your content and message the right balance of practical and theory? How are you aligning these to your attendees’ needs and desires?


Pull Learning versus Push Teaching

It is always easier to pull a string than to push it. You have more control over direction, speed, and outcome. The same is true of marketing and learning.

Social, technical, economic, and political changes are impacting education and bringing new and exciting alternatives to traditional approaches. How, when, and why people learn is changing. There is a shift away from the classroom and campus (read as keynote/breakouts and on-site) and towards Pull Learning – accessing knowledge when and how desired by the learner.

  • Using aspects of open source technology, crowd sourcing, peer-to-peer interactions, social and rich media, and online technology to reach and engage with tens of thousand, Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) are to the universities of the world what hybrid and online events are to marketing.
  • Decoded offers a workshop promising to teach anyone to code computers or web sites in one-day.
  • MIT and Harvard are offering inexpensive or free content via the edX platform.
  • offers a universe of user-generated print and video content on all things computing and software from self (and community) proclaimed subject matter experts for a monthly subscription.
  • Peer to peer learning (called unconferences or open forums at events) is also growing in popularity.

Is your content strategy push teaching or pull learning? Can it be accessed when and where desired? Can you teach a new skill in one any day?

Note: As always, the desire of Janus Dialogs is not to adjudicate the appropriateness of any trend, but to bring it to the forefront for consideration by the caretakers for the shared moments in time we call experience marketing.




  1. I would use evolve instead of dumber or out of alignment – as a fan of singularity I believe we will get to a point(30 – 40 years from now) where the distinction between human and AI driven innovation will at the very least be murky if not gone completely. That, unfortunately is not to say that I believe we will evolve in a positive way, things could take a turn for the worse and, the jury is way out on this one.

    The more important point in that article is that, indeed, the average person’s intellect in the US is moving in a downward direction and our politicians are part of it. Even if they are very well educated, they need to lower the standard quite a bit to make themselves understood and re-elected by the masses. As long as we as a country manage to attract the best brains from all parts of the world, I am not worried – this country always worked on the principle that 10% of the population was smart enough to provide innovation and a middle class lifestyle for the rest of us through the jobs they were generating from that innovation.

    The danger now would be for places like Singapore, India, Korea, Brazil, Russia and China to become attractive enough that they manage to stop or reverse their brain drain to the US.

    With all this being said, all the other economies outside the US experience their own Janus moment: the digital divide creates 2 large classes of people – the ones that have the skills to get high paid jobs and the ability to keep learning new ones as technology marches along and the rest of us struggling to figure out how to make a living without being technically proficient(browsing the internet or using Word is no longer a “skill”). That’s the real problem all governments are trying to figure out and I look forward to seeing how this movie ends – in the meantime, I will do my best to influence my own future by learning as much as I can.

  2. […] One downside of “available at your fingertips” knowledge is the threat of becoming researchers instead of scholars. Simply getting the information at the time and in the context needed does not mean comprehension, understanding, or seeing the connections to other knowledge. Building this intelligence seems an important place to focus for both formal and program based content. [Knowledge and Intelligence are indeed different – see here] […]