Become smarter by learning and integrating new knowledge.
Today's topic is brilliant.
Do you think it is possible to actually become brilliant at a really advanced age(21)?
Ouch! Lionel! That hurts. Twenty one is a really advanced age? We won't even think about what that makes me. Methuselah comes to mind. I love your question, because brilliant people make better dinner conversation, and we need more of that.
But why do you want to be brilliant? Lots of brilliant people spend their lives feeling cut off from everyone around them who aren't as brilliant. And brilliance isn't a path to riches; in my experience, they're only loosely related (if at all) unless your brilliance is in finance.
Let's assume you want to be brilliant so we can have dinner together on my book tour in 2009. Bizarrely, I have a podcast-length answer to your question. Yes, I believe it's possible to become smarter at an advanced age. Let's discuss.
Since you want to become more brilliant, let's start with your brain.
Some Smarts are Hardwired
When you're young, your brain grows new cells and forms gajillions of connections. Twice while you grow up--once when you're a young child and again around age 16--the cells and connections that you don't use much die off. So by the time you're at a really advanced age, it's true, your brain has certain things hardwired in. These become your strengths that are lifelong and are so easy for you that you can't believe other people don't think this way. The book "Now, Discover Your Strengths" by Marcus Buckingham talks about these hardwired strengths and lets you take an online assessment to find out yours. If you're curious, mine are strategic thinking, being a futurist, achieving, relating to others, and taking responsibility.
Your hardwired strengths are just that, hardwired, so you have an advantage in those areas over people who don't have those strengths naturally. One way to become brilliant is to know your strengths, integrate them into your life, and develop them over time so you go from merely good at them to phenomenal-exceptional-world-class.
I believe some forms of genius probably have to be hardwired. I have no proof except my own experience, but it seem to me that truly brilliant music/mathematical-thinking/computer-scientist thinking may need to be hardwired. You can learn it, but the truly great seem to be born with the aptitude. But there's still hope for the rest of us.
Twenty years ago (in the prehistoric era), scientists thought hardwiring was the end of the story. Your brain forms and it's all downhill from there. You and I may not think that's so bad, but listen to interviews with political commentators or movie stars, and you suddenly realize even fame and fortune might not be adequate compensation for being locked in that brain.
Connections Are Where It's At!
But it turns out there's hope, even for Bill O'Reilly! While your brain structure is fixed by your really advanced ago, your brain can break and form connections for the rest of your life. Even when you're as old as Methuselah. The more connections, the more you bring together information in new ways. You'll become more creative and intelligent, if not brilliant.
Before you can connect stuff in your brain, you have to have something there in the first place. If you bump your head and hear an echo, that's not a good sign. For many of us, our number one lesson from school is that once school's done, we never want to learn anything again. Resist! Keep learning. Do what I do: every year, choose a learning project and learn a new skill. Either take a class or learn on your own or with friends.
Mix it up each year so you learn visual skills, physical skills, and auditory skills. Maybe even skills around taste and smell, too. My learning projects have included drawing simple cartoons, swing dancing and lindy hop, comedy improv, hypnosis, yoga, singing, speaking German, and mathematically modeling dynamic systems with embedded feedback loops. I've considered cooking, but then people would expect me to bring stuff to potlucks. And we can't have that, can we?