Multiple Intelligence – Part II

This is Part Two of my project to explore different examples of multiple intelligence that I’ve encountered and how these incidences affected my approach to everything from customer service to working with colleagues. Read Part One.


At a previous job I held at a non-profit organization, I worked on event-based fundraising initiatives and managed the campaigns online. For this, we contracted to use a third-party online fundraising CMS. This system could generate a fully functional, socially-based fundraising website in 15 minutes: fill out all the fields and select some settings on the back-end, and voilà! Your website is up-and-running. Of course, we weren’t satisfied with that – we wanted our site customized and branded to the fullest extent possible. We found every tweak and hack and work-around we could to make our site look and feel like it wasn’t an out-of-the-box CMS. Within a couple of weeks of signing our contract with the vendor, we’d already been upgraded to “super user” status and, thanks to us, they’d filled out pages of ideas for improvements and expansions to roll out with future updates.

One of my co-workers was notoriously technologically inept. She actually bragged about being a luddite. The way this CMS was set up, there was one particular back-end field that auto-populated its information in several different places on the site. My co-worker wanted this information removed from one page. We couldn’t do that – we could only either remove the information from everywhere on the site, or leave it up everywhere. To remove it from only one page required recoding core functionality and we didn’t have access to do that (it was third-party proprietary software, after all).

My co-worker simply couldn’t accept that this was the case – she couldn’t understand why it should be so hard to get one line of text taken off one page. She had no understanding whatsoever of how a CMS works. She was thinking of it like a Microsoft Word document (the only frame of reference she had) and all she wanted from me was to delete some text. What’s the problem?

One of my proudest professional moments was when I figured out a way to explain it to her – and it worked! She told me afterwards that I was the only person who had ever explained something “techie” to her in a way she actually understood. What I had to do to resolve this situation was find a way to translate the inner workings of the CMS into a different system that my co-worker knew well. Here’s how I explained it to her:

You walk into a room and decide you don’t like the chair that’s sitting in the corner. All you’re asking me to do is haul it out of the room. What you don’t see, though, is that this chair is built into the wall: it’s tied into essential structure, and it has plumbing, electrical, and HVAC systems routed through it. To get rid of this chair, we need to tear out that whole section of wall, rebuild some of the structure, re-route systems, re-drywall, re-plaster, and re-paint. It’s actually a substantial renovation.

I knew that she loved home improvement projects, so the analogy was pretty obvious.

I want emphasize something here: my former co-worker is a phenomenally intelligent person! She just didn’t click well with modern online technology. Her lack of understanding of modern tech systems has nothing to do with her level of intelligence – it’s just that her frames of reference don’t include anything that help her relate to it.

I’ve often described my method for learning new pieces of software or new coding and programming systems as a process of figuring out “how the system thinks.” I don’t do well memorizing step-by-step procedures, or lists of syntax. Rather, I work with the system until the logic of its underlying structure becomes clear to me. Once I understand that, the way to do pretty much anything within that system becomes self-evident.

That’s how my brain works. However, it’s not how my former co-worker’s brain works. Does this say anything at all about our relative intelligence?

No, it doesn’t. It just means that we’re each smart in our own way, and we each do some things better than others. Together, we figured out how to communicate to each others’ strengths and create the best fundraising system we could.

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