Clever Girl

Last week I wrote a post waxing supportive of the most recent Diesel ad campaign. You know the one: it encourages us to live a little and take some risks under (slightly shocking) tag lines like “Smart Has All The Plans. Stupid Has All The Stories.”

Many of you expressed surprise that I would like such an ad campaign, especially since I’m a self-identifying Smarty. A few commenters also made the very valid points that the some of the “stupid” behavior that women were engaging in these ads was sexualized (flashing a security camera, taking a picture of their lady parts) while the men in these ads were doing silly, creative things.

A few readers also made comments that leaning out of car windows and flashing cameras “aren’t things that a smart woman would do.”

All of these responses are really, really interesting to me. As I said in the post itself, the ads appeal to me because I’ve never felt pressured to hide my intelligence under the proverbial bushel, nor have I ever felt ostracized for being bright. I have, however, had my own personal struggles to embrace the more impetuous, less cerebral aspects of life and these ads encourage me to live a little, in a way that registers with me.

So I’d love to hear what you kids think about intelligence. What does ‘intelligence’ even mean?

Is it the ability to learn and retain things quickly? To study and remember things? To put your words into thoughts cohesively? To take an active interest in the world around you?

Once you’re out of school and you’re no longer being graded on material, how do you measure intelligence? How do you know when someone you’re interacting with is intelligent?

And in terms of these ads: do you think that risk-taking and intelligence are mutually exclusive? How does intelligence manifest in someone’s behavior? Surely we all know PhD candidates who can’t balance their bank account or follow a recipe. And I’m sure we all know people who flunked out of school but are leading amazing, successful lives.

What do you think intelligence means? Do you consider yourself to be intelligent? Why?



Wow, thought provoking u are!. lol..Intelligence is not just being book smart… Being intelligent also means having common sense, being logical and reasonable… My 3 adult kids would attest to that… The convos I have w/my kids always reflect that as well… Awhile ago both girls were experiencing the world of being micro managed.. and we all know at times there lacks common sense there…I think the way intelligence manifests in someone's behavior is by experience…and how they deal w/what they have learned thru that experience… If they had a negative experience I know from my last negative experience I know not to repeat having it happen it again… I will take heed the red flags more… I do know going thru the negative hurts and yet I see why it came my way… I've become more of an aware person. Intelligence goes out of the window if I allow myself to get into the same negative position.
Risk taking is not exclusive, we all experience it in varying degrees and then again it depends on our comfort zone as to whether how far we will go to take that risk… some may need just to take a little and can grow from that risk or some need to jump in all the way in order for them to process it..,.And I for one measure intelligence by the way a person expresses or demonstrates… or if its a product how it works…
I've been told I'm a linear thinker and for me that works… I know one person who thinks 'all over the place' and its hard for that person to understand where I am coming from and vice versa…


when i think about it, i sort of equate intelligence with awareness and perception. not exactly the webster's definition… but most of the people in my life that i identify as intelligent are people who are curious about the world, actively engage in it, trust themselves and their instincts, and as a result bring awareness and perception to others whether they mean to or not.

using big words and getting good grades rarely has anything to do with it.

i realize that the above is pretty abstract, but as i began to write this it was difficult to pinpoint exactly what i feel about intelligence. and i guess that's the clincher – i'm an emotional person, and i've run into this cockamamie perception out there that emotional people are unintelligent – but i think that intelligent people understand and manage their emotions, and that they are more intimate partners than most people would like to think.

where risk is concerned… i think intelligent people crave experience. some might get that experience in scholarly ways… others may need a more "hands on" kind of experience. its all quite subjective. i've done some things in my life that might be considered to be diesel's definition of "stupid" and for the most part i don't regret them, because i'm glad gave myself the opportunity for those experiences. now… if i were to repeat some of those things… then the webster's definition of stupid might actually apply ๐Ÿ™‚


I thought the debate over those ads was super-interesting, especially because I was already kind of against them when I saw them recently in the street- but then upon hearing why you like them, I can absolutely appreciate it. I too have always been considered smart, cautious, etc etc etc- and it is only recently that I am able to embrace those other, fun, spontaneous sides of myself.

As far as intelligence, I am sure that there are different kinds. I am very good at school- I consider that a very specific skill set (writing, speaking, and thinking in an academic way), totally separate from the kind of smart where people can, for example, retain dates and historical facts, scientific knowledge (a more encyclopedic smart which I do not have). Plus social intelligence and emotional intelligence are completely different- some of the smartest people I know totally suck at school, but are brilliant at getting others to like them or do what they want, etc etc etc…I feel like most people start out with one or two kinds of intelligence, and then the battle is to develop the others…



yesterday i attended a lecture on AIDS, and i know this sounds completely unrelated, but the instructor was telling us about the 4 different kinds of choices we can all make, in every aspect of our lives.

1 – do things that are good for us, but bad for others. this is the most common choice, and not the best one.

2 – do things that are good for us, and good for others.

3 – do things that are bad for us, but good for others.

4 – do things that are bad for us, and bad for everyone else. and to him, this was the definition of being stupid.

i agreed with him, because i mostly think being intelligent has nothing to do with getting good grades or being a role-model. i think being intelligent is being able to function in the society we live in, by its rules, but also having enough judgment to make choices that are right for us and others. to me, intelligence is acception, respect, curiosity and the urge to learn!

Analiese Marie

I don't think that risk-taking and intelligence are mutually exclusive at all. However, it was the ad's use of the word "stupid" and its equivocation of "stupid" things as "cool" that I felt was misguided. In my mind, being "stupid" is not the same thing as taking risks, being creative, being spontaneous, etc.

Semantics aside, are the acts portrayed in these ads really things we should be championing in a campaign aimed at young people? In my mind, a risk worth taking might be applying for a job you're not quite qualified for. Taking the trip to a place whose culture fascinates you but where you don't know a soul. Going for the Ph.D. Opening your heart to a new relationship. Why are we glorifying immature stunts like flashing your boobs as risky, adventurous, and creative? We can do so much better.


I think intelligence is the ability to think creatively and uniquely on a particular subject. It can be in any field– from the culinary arts to the mechanical world to the good old social sciences. I also agree with another commenter who said awareness and perception factor into the picture, though I think without the ability to bring unique ideas I'm not sure it can be intelligence.

Anyway, thank you Sarah Von, for a blog that doesn't make my brain run out of my ear.


I second Kate's statement, "I feel like most people start out with one or two kinds of intelligence, and then the battle is to develop the others." That sums it up perfectly for me. As I mature/age, I am coming to the uncomfortable conclusion that what made me stand out academically as a student is not nearly as important as I was led to believe. Summa cum laude…whoopty doo. My husband was an average student, but retained so much more information about the world because he would be genuinely interested in subjects and see the big picture, whereas I spent 20 years just working the (education) system.
I love Kate's statement because it gives me hope, and I love the use of the word "battle." Oh yeah, it's on, now. I am an intelligence warrior!
As for the ad, I liked it for the same reason I love the NTKOG blog. I have no intention of flashing a security camera, but stepping outside my comfort zone is really a step toward raising my interpersonal intelligence.

The Insatiable Host

Intelligence is the confidence one has in themselves to make conscious decisions that will result in a positive outcome.

Stupidity is not seeing an opportunity when it is staring you in the face.

Either side of the scale has moments of insecurity, results that aren't desired or even times of self-doubt BUT…and this is a J-Lo sized BUT it's what you do afterwards that makes you enriched.

Personally, I love the ads because like you, they gave me "balls" to take a chance…now, I didn't take it as a sign to flash everyone/thing that I see but it does show that even Einstein had a sense of humour and was able to "let go"

Great post!! I love the commenters here too…great interaction!



Found it kind of funny that of the 3 ads you posted, people mentioned the girl doing a sexualized thing (flashing the security camera) but nobody had a problem with the guy riding an elephant and the innuendo in that one!

Anyway, I think intelligence is being able to do all the things you need to do in your daily life and do them well. I'm a teacher, and I'm good at my job and constantly learning new skills and ideas, but compared to a doctorate in physics, I could be considered an idiot. But I can manage my finances, prepare healthy meals, teach people new skills, and help them to be successful in life.

I think intelligence isn't just what you know but having the willingness to learn new things and alter or change your understanding of something based on new information.


To me intelligence is about seeking. Some people are born able to retain large amounts of info, others not so much, but to me, I admire a person who actively seeks to learn new things. Who is curious. & I hope I am like that myself.

Chrissy H.

Hm, these are really interesting questions. I think true intelligence is not so much measured, but reflected by a person's willingness to look at and examine the world around them. I firmly believe that curiosity can take you much further than a PhD.


Wow, hard question. I guess I'm intelligent as in, I passed my exams with good grades and everything, but outside that standard description, I'm not sure how to define it.
I guess the difference is between being intelligent, and being academic.
I need to think about this!


So. There's a lot of research on this. It's generally accepted that there's different kinds of intelligence: emotional intelligence, interpersonal intelligence, intrapersonal intelligence. Other theories split it into different sorts of genres: natural intelligence, bodily intelligence, etc.

I don't think we should conflate curiosity with intelligence. People can be intelligent in a particular area (have a high aptitude for learning a particular subject), but can be lazy about it.

Additionally, I think it should be noted that as per Carol Dweck's work, INTELLIGENCE IS EXPANDABLE. If you're "bad" at something you can *always* get better with practice. Intelligence is not a stuck state. It can be expanded and improved.

So, it's not curiosity that makes you intelligent in a particular area. It's *practice* that makes you intelligent in that area.

Chrissy H.

@Iris – Practice is definitely needed, but initial curiosity is what sparks intelligence. You have to be interested in something before you pursue it. Curiosity, passion, patience and practice – these are the things that result in intelligence.

And I agree that there all kinds of intelligences, but I think this formula will work for most. ๐Ÿ™‚


Intelligence is a complicated concept…..I think it's a term that people throw around a lot.

It's not just restricted to school…it's not all about marks or grades. Sure, that's a form of intelligence, but it's not the only one.

Personally, I think having a knowledge of the world around you is intelligent. Having this kind of knowledge will inform the decisions that you make in your life. Knowing about the world can help people to make some very interesting discoveries…..I mean, take a look at global warming. If that knowledge was only restricted to scientists, there wouldn't be other people trying to make wise decisions or trying to make a difference based on the state of our planet.

Another part of intelligence to me, is listening. If you're all talk, there's nothing really smart about that. I mean, you have to be able to talk and actually understand what you're talking about!


I think what's funny about the campaign is the fact that women and men are both flouting traditional societal norms and standards. Women do not behave in overly sexualized ways – that would be stupid. And men don't get creative/they go bring home the bacon by getting steady jobs.

The ad campaign challenges that a whole lot.

It's not really a knock on intelligence. It's a knock on conventional notions.


I totally agree w/alphaandomega. One has to know how to listen and not just listen halfway… there are so many times people will misunderstand or assume how a statement will be finished w/out truly listening to the entirety… I think it also takes a type of patience and maturity to give all ears to the one communicating..


Usually I'm not anonymous. I do consider myself intelligent, in fact I have a genius level iq. But that is just book smarts and in the real world (I've learned as an adult) doing well enough in school to skip grades by memorizing materials does not make a successful life after school is over. I have struggled so much in the last 10 years with everything that relates to street smarts since I literally had none. As well as not cutting my fingers off in the kitchen and being socially nomal, what I am working towards is just being happy as much as possible, I think happy people are the most intelligent. ๐Ÿ™‚


Intelligence is defined in so many different ways.

I am a terrible student. I've been in college, on and off, since 2003 and I'm still not done. However, I know I'm not stupid because I love to read (both fiction and nonfiction) and I love to write (in my journal). Writing a paper, though, for a class? Can't stand it. I find it to be extremely difficult.

My boyfriend, on the other hand, does not like to read and has not-so-great speaking skills. He struggles with English grammar. However, he can do plumbing, electrical, carpentry, etc. with his eyes closed. Then again, he's an engineer; that stuff comes naturally to him. Additionally, he can make split-second decisions like nobody's business. I've seen him do it not only when he's driving, but also when he's working and a problem abruptly comes up.

I know this doesn't cover all of the areas of intelligence, but I do think that we are both intelligent in our own ways – ways that have nothing to do with being able to regurgitate memorized material for a test. And I think that's why the word is thrown around so often: not because it's a word, but because it's a concept. There is a lot more to intelligence than what the dictionary defines it as.


That's an interesting question. The stereotype would assume that non-intellegent, sexualized, typical female-types are the ones going about doing tarty things (like taking pictures of their naughty-bits), but I'm sure there have been many intellegent women who've made a coherent choice to do such things – without thinking they were playing into some 'tarty' and unintellegent stereotype and, thus, doing something wrong. It's a bit judgemental to assume, though the advertisement has a clear sexual bias, that these things are atypical of smart, clever, and otherwise confident women.

I think intellegence can be applied at an individual level. Geeky-types who obsess over Html (again, a stereotype) or understand the strategy of Chess are different from the geeky-types who read Nietzsche and blog about their philosophies on the world. It's not something you can apply broadly or take offense at, when the definition isn't applicable to you. In the same vein, I may not give two shits about the women in the ad, but relate to how the men are portrayed (which is perfectly acceptable).

I'm not sure that made any sense, but I hope it did.


I think common sense is probably the truest measure of whether or not someone is intelligent. I don't care how high your IQ or EQ is, if you don't have the goods at ground level then I am not going to consider you an intelligent person. Basically I'm not really interested in someone who can solve complex mathematical theories only to look at me blank when I ask them a simple question. I guess common sense involves sound judgment and also the ability to connect the dots and see the obvious.


I think intelligence is partly learning and retaining information, being able to hold a good conversation, being able to problem solve well, etc. but I also think that it is how you respond to certain situations in life. I know some people who I thought were rather intelligent at first, but they did a LOT of stupid things in their life, and I realized maybe they weren't that much smarter than me.

I consider myself very average. A lot of people tell me they think I'm intelligent, but it's because there are so many stupid people shouting so loud nowadays. If I'm actually around a truly intelligent person, my average-ness shows.


Hmmmm – thought provoking!

I guess for me intelligence is the person who can learn and adapt from a broad range of situations. I know so many academics for example who barely function on a social or practical level. They may have degrees coming out of their ears but to me, that's not necessarily intelligent. On the other hand, I also have a lot of friends who haven't had the best start in life so weren't given the opportunity to be academically smart, but that doesn't mean they haven't more than two brain cells to rub together. They're some of the smartest people I know ๐Ÿ™‚

And for me, a good sense of humour is a massive sign of intelligence!

K x


Intelligence? I guess at first glance, I would say it's brain power. It's the ability to process information, be it mathematical or creative. I consider "street smarts" to be common sense and emotional intelligence. Intelligent people aren't always the smartest, or the most emotionally intelligent. I only saw the ads on your blog, and I thought it was interesting that they equated flashing at security cameras with being interesting! Having said that, the art of taking risks often does need us to stop using our intelligence to consider the "sensible" route. And the occasional risk makes us interesting. I guess this is a really inarticulate way to say it's possible to be intelligent and stupid at the same time.


The psych geek in me has to pipe up and say that I don't think you can answer the question "What is intelligence?" because it implies that intelligence is one thing. I'm a big fan of the theory of multiple intelligences. There are linguistic, logical-mathematical, spacial, body-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal and naturalist intelligences and every person has a different combination of each. Someone who is an team athlete may have excellent body-kinesthetic and interpersonal intelligences and be less developed in their others. A writer may be strong in linguistic and intrapersonal intelligences but less awesome at logical-mathematical intelligence. Or maybe some lucky person is high in all of them and can do whatever they like.

The point is that it embraces all sorts of competencies. Maybe being spontaneous and taking risks is part of your intrapersonal intelligence because it lets you try out thing that might make you happy. Or, if they are calculated risks (and who doesn't love a calculated risk?)perhaps they are logical-mathematical.


"I have, however, had my own personal struggles to embrace the more impetuous, less cerebral aspects of life and these ads encourage me to live a little, in a way that registers with me."

I think this is the part of your post that made the most sense to me. I over-think situations and talk myself out of doing something spontaneous because it isn't the most logical path, and sometimes I feel like I might be missing out, or feel like a wet blanket for bringing the sensible to the table.

Early next month, my boyfriend and I are going on a 5 month backpacking trip around Europe, and I'm hoping to become a little less inhibited (in a good way) and take some fun risks. Let the plans fall by the wayside and throw caution to the wind, so to speak.

Wish me luck! And thank you for so eloquently wording a feeling I have had many times before =)


To me, intelligence comes from curiosity. A curiosity so constant that it cannot be stifled if you tried. By constantly questioning and learning, you can't help but become knowledgeable, aware and quick-witted.

I definitely do not think that being intelligent and being adventurous or silly are mutually exclusive. In fact, all of the most ridiculous, risk-taking or goofy people I know are also the most intelligent people I know.


That's perfect place to read books. Especially to study. You can observe how peacefully she reads the book.


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