BlackBerry Security Director Alex Manea may well be one of the most intelligent people in Canada.
Born in Romania during the rule of Nicolae Ceausescu, Alex, who is one of our spokespeople for the PRIV’s security strengths, and his family escaped the country during the 1989 revolution, living in France for a couple of years before immigrating to Canada. By the time he’d finished 7th grade, Alex had been to seven schools in five cities and three countries, and learned three different languages.
Alex’s parents have always been his greatest inspiration, and their determination and discipline rubbed off on him, teaching him to make the most of his environment no matter where he wound up. They were also responsible for his love of technology, providing him with his first computer. From there, it was pretty much a straight shot to his position at BlackBerry, where he’s been working for nearly a decade.
On Sunday, November 1, Alex appeared on episode five of Canada’s Smartest Person’s second season, where he won out against some of the nation’s most intelligent people. This victory means he’ll be moving on to the season finale, due to air on November 22. Before his episode, I had the opportunity for a sit-down with him to discuss his time on the (pre-recorded) show and his insights into the nature of what makes someone smart.
Nick: I understand you topped the charts in the Canada’s Smartest Person app last year, for two consecutive weeks. What got you interested in trying it?
Alex: I actually found the app first – that’s how I learned about the show. I’ve always loved games and the fact that I was able to play along live with a game show was very cool. When I realized I was pretty good at the challenges, I wanted to get on the show’s live leaderboard. After a couple good results, they featured me on their blog, which I think really helped when I applied to be on Season 2.
Nick: How’d you feel when your application to be on Season 2 was approved?
Alex: It’s crazy to think that I’m going to be on national television, but I definitely couldn’t turn down the opportunity. I know the pressure will be intense, with only one chance to prove myself in front of the whole country. It’s impossible to describe the feeling of having so many cameras and microphones recording your every move, but I can guarantee you that all of the other participants feel exactly the same way.
Nick: Do you consider the show a test of smarts or of some other aspect?
Alex: What’s neat about Canada’s Smartest Person is that it actually tests multiple intelligences. So unlike a normal IQ test, which just focuses on math and puzzles, the show also examines things like public speaking, creative writing and musical talent. That makes it a lot tougher, since you have to be good at so many different things. But at the same time it’s also a lot more fun to watch and a lot more relevant to the modern world.
Our world is changing very quickly and the approach the show takes reflects the realities of the 21st century. We live in a hyper-connected society and carry incredibly-powerful computers everywhere we go, which makes knowledge and trivia less important and skills like written communication and creative problem solving much more vital.
Nick: How did you ‘train’ for the show?
Alex: Practice, practice and more practice. I’ve spent months doing everything I can to prepare for not only the challenges, but also the environment and pressure. I’ve watched every episode from Season 1 and tried to put myself in the shoes of the participants to see how I would react. It’s just like any test or exam – you can prepare as much as you want, but it really comes down to getting a good night’s sleep and going out there focused and ready to perform.
If I can do that, I feel like I can compete with anyone in the world.
Nick: What’s it been like being a part of Canada’s Smartest Person?
Alex: Amazing. Everyone involved with the show has been awesome (even by Canadian standards) and I’ve learned so much. When you watch a show like this on TV, you don’t really think about how much work goes into creating that single hour of footage. Being backstage and seeing how many people are involved and how much time and effort goes into creating each episode was incredible.
The best part by far, though, was having my family there in the front row. They kept me calm and focused and cheered me on when I needed it most. Overall, it has just been a once in a lifetime experience.
Nick: What areas of the competition do you feel most confident about?
Alex: I feel pretty confident about Logical Intelligence. I grew up playing competitive chess and I’ve always been good at math and puzzles. I excelled in the Logical challenges on the app last year and I’m hoping to replicate that success on the live show. The other areas where I feel I’m pretty strong are Social and Linguistic Intelligence; I’m an experienced public speaker and media spokesperson, and I also write for Inside BlackBerry.
Nick: Any highlights to share? Favorite moments?
Nick: I’ll give a little teaser just for everyone at Inside BlackBerry. One of the challenges in my episode involves a task that normally takes weeks, months or even years to do. We were asked to complete the entire task from start to finish.
We had 8 minutes.
Nick: Any advice for anyone that’s looking to improve their intelligence?
Alex: Intelligence, like any skill or attribute, is a mix of nature and nurture. Your floor and ceiling are genetically determined, but where you end up between those extremes comes down to practice and dedication. A very important lesson from the show is that intelligence actually consists of multiple fairly independent attributes, and each individual has their own strengths and weaknesses.
One of the neat things about watching and playing along is that you get to learn which areas you’re best at, some of which may actually surprise you.
Nick: What have you learned from being on Canada’s Smartest Person? (note: the show was pre-recorded several months ago)
Alex: The biggest thing I’ve learned is the importance of taking calculated risks and seizing opportunities. We often focus so much on long-term goals at the end of the tunnel that we miss all of the side doors we pass by every day. Canada’s Smartest Person is one of the neatest doors that has ever opened for me and I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.
Nick: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Alex: I hope you enjoy watching the show as much as I’ve enjoyed being part of it. Win, lose or draw, I promise that it’s going to be a lot of fun. If you live in Canada, be sure to check it out Sundays at 8pm on CBC.
Want to know more about Alex? Check out some of his writing on the Inside BlackBerry Blog and the BlackBerry Business Blog, or look him up on LinkedIn. You can also learn more about Canada’s Smartest Person here.