Congratulations, Las Vegas, you may not be as dumb as people think you are.
In fact you’re downright brainy, according to at least one smart guy.
That’s Bo Bernhard, executive director of the International Gaming Institute and professor of sociology and hotel management at UNLV. After plenty of study, he’s concluded Las Vegas is a smart city, contrary to “many popular portrayals.” He even gave a TED Talk on the subject in April that’s been viewed on Youtube more than 2,900 times.
No, Bernhard didn’t miss the memo about our dismal high school graduation rates. He’s talking about “social intelligence,” a person’s ability to relate well to others.
Researchers are finding that social intelligence may be more important than IQs or SAT scores in measuring a person’s potential for success. And Las Vegas has it in spades, Bernhard says.
Social intelligence is what keeps the hospitality industry afloat. It’s what brings 40 million tourists to town each year. It’s what turns Sin City into Smart City.
“An intelligent brain is a social brain,” Bernhard says. “A social brain is a hospitality brain. A hospitality brain is a Las Vegas brain. And Las Vegas is smart.”
Bernhard, who was a double major at Harvard, goes on to explain this using a tool understandable only to those blessed in more conventional measures of intelligence: science.
“There’s a brain cell called a neuron,” he says. “There’s a particular type of neuron called a ‘mirror neuron.’?”
A mirror neuron, Bernhard explains, is what allows us “to lock brains with someone to read what they’re feeling … and then to respond based upon those interpretations.”
It’s what makes that great waiter in your favorite restaurant so great.
The study of mirror neurons has lately become as sexy to researchers as a scantily clad cocktail server. And Bernhard says we might someday think of them as “hospitality neurons.” Or maybe, “just maybe, as the science evolves, we’ll come to think of them as ‘Las Vegas neurons.’?”
In other words, human understanding of intelligence is bending toward Las Vegas, he says.
It’s about time. For too long we’ve gotten a bum rap. Or a dumb rap.
Awhile back, the news and opinion website The Daily Beast dubbed Las Vegas the nation’s dumbest city, based on education levels and intellectual vitality. The site compiled its rankings using factors such as the number of libraries per capita, the ratio of colleges and universities and the number of nonfiction books sold.
“There’s a whole set of assumptions that come with saying you’re from Las Vegas,” Bernhard says. “None of them are associated with the library.”
Of course as an educator Bernhard believes in the value of book learning. But he says something goes unmeasured when you focus solely on that.
Much the way you would wash out of Silicon Valley if you weren’t tech savvy, “you don’t stand a chance in a career in the hospitality industry” if you’re not socially savvy, he says.
Brian Gordon is another pretty smart guy. He’s a principal in the local research firm Applied Analysis and a certified public accountant. He’s no expert on mirror neurons but agrees Las Vegas should be recognized for its brains.
The city has always been an innovator, he says, particularly in terms of travel and tourism.
“It takes incredibly smart, creative and thought-provoking ideas for Las Vegas to continue to elevate its game.”
Gordon also doesn’t think that kind of creativity is “tied at the hip” with traditional measures of intelligence. You can achieve it through formal training or through “working in the trenches,” he says.
Las Vegas is ripe with successful entrepreneurs who don’t have much formal education, from food-and-beverage workers who built catering businesses to cabdrivers who formed transportation companies.
Even Las Vegas Sands Corp. founder Sheldon Adelson, who ranks among the world’s wealthiest people, failed to finish the degree he started at the City College of New York.
And Gordon points out that Las Vegas is quickly evolving into a traditionally smart city by drawing tech startups to town, among other brainy endeavors.
Until we get there, we’ll be rich in mirror neurons. If yours are weak, don’t worry. You can learn to be socially smarter just like you can learn to be a better poker player, Bernhard says.
“There’s the hand you’re dealt, and then there’s how you play.”
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