What most managers mean when they talk about “smart employees” is general abilities or cognitive skills.

General abilities suggests how quickly and how accurately an individual thinks logically and sequentially through formulas, reads and comprehends, thinks on his feet, and visualizes and conceptualizes in three dimensions. They determine how quickly and accurately an individual can work with complex numbers, complex documents and complex blueprints and schematics. The higher the abilities, the faster and more accurate an individual is likely to get the correct answer, comprehend what is said or written or see the solution. In other words, “how quickly individuals connect the dots, get it, think on their feet, learn on the fly”.

Low general abilities don’t mean an individual can’t get the correct answer, find a mistake or solve a problem. In fact really smart people can have low general mental abilities. 

Low general mental abilities merely determines how accurately an individual might reach a conclusion when time is an issue and he or she is unfamiliar with the situation. The more time-sensitive a situation, the more likely an individual with lower abilities either will make a mistake or be that “deer caught in the headlights.”. You know the type. You ask an assistant to make changes in a report and they look at you like you’ve just landed from another planet. This reaction is very different from the high abilities individual who is calculating a complex rate of return for a client before the client has even given him all the details.

General mental abilities basically assess how quickly individuals process data and turn it into information when they find themselves in new and more complex situations.