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What I Learned This Week: It's Not Enough To Be Smart

12/01/2013 07:31 EST | Updated 01/31/2014 05:59 EST

Way back in 1931, Albert Einstein famously mused that "Imagination is more important than knowledge."

In saying this, as in so many other ways, Einstein was ahead of his time, since the value of the entity called "the fact" has eroded almost down to nothing in the 82 years since his utterance.

"Knowing stuff" used to be esteemed; smart people were revered and admired for being "learned." Now, those who use their brains as a repository for facts are merely a quaint curiosity to be exploited on Jeopardy or around a Trivial Pursuit board.

Really, what does anybody truly need to know now? Anything that was, that happened or that is can be referenced in a millisecond or two via Google on your smartphone.

True value these days isn't in just knowing. And with all due respect to Albert Einstein, even wild-eyed imagination ain't the shining star it used to be.

These days, the holy grail of intelligence is a double-barreled entity called Curiosity.

Barry Diller, the sage Chairman of IAC and Expedia, may not be today's answer to Einstein, but in last week's Bloomberg BusinessWeek, the mega-successful thinker, builder and operator waxed wise in his response to the question: "Are there areas that you wish you knew more about?"

Said Diller:

"We're in a world now where it's not enough to be smart. You have to be curious. Curiosity is rare. The further up in a business you are, the less intelligent you need to be.

At the entry stage, the sieve grows tighter and education can only do so much."

The beauty of curiosity as the prime factor of success is that it marries both the mental and physical elements of progress. To wit, Knowledge implies the tasks of filling, memorizing and regurgitating. Imagination implies the art of thinking and dreaming. Curiosity, however, requires not only the cerebral wonderment of "what if?" but also the actual corporeal action of "let's see!" for absolute fulfillment. It's the yin/yang between conceptualization and follow-through; one without the other voids the process.

This changes everything, as curiosity (if you can believe the old cliché) may have killed the cat, but if you can believe Diller -- or me -- it's going to be the lifeblood of the next generation of top dogs.

This is something I'm going to get to see, and put into action, for myself soon.

Over the past few weekends, I've been spending a good deal of time prepping a marketing class I'm going to be teaching at McGill University next year. My greatest challenge is assembling a modern-day course that bridges the sectors of academia and the "real world," and exploits curiosity to a group of students who have come of age in the "know it all" Internet era.

In other words, what's not important is teaching a bunch of stuff that's going to be on the test, but imparting a bunch of stuff that will put them to the test. Planning ain't been easy, but it's been fun. Let's see if it stays fun once put into play.

So if I have to summarize this week's learning, it's that learning isn't enough.

It's what we actually and eventually DO with that learning that counts.

Or, put another way:

Curiosity is more important than imagination.

P.S. Wanna see a prime example of curiosity's "what if?/let's see!" in action? Read this fascinating Fast Company piece.

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