Sternberg proposed that there were three kinds of intelligence in his triarchic theory of intelligence. According to Sternberg, intelligence had little to do with individuals' ability to memorize or fill their head with ideas. Instead, intelligence for Sternberg is a function of how well people are able to adapt to and problem solve in the environment around them. We have three primary cognitive mechanisms (ways of thinking) that do this: componential, experiential, and practical. Each of these mechanisms is associated with a type of intelligence: analytical, creative, and practical.
Componential thinking is the kind that we most often associate with school. It is our ability to analyze and pick apart problems. Componential thinking allows us to figure out where to go to learn new information, identify what actions should be taken when being placed in different scenarios, and lay out more complex plans. The measure of our componential thinking is analytic intelligence, and might be measured on an IQ test.
Experiential thinking is based on our experience with different situations. Experiential thinking helps us to identify the degree to which we are familiar with different scenarios, and allows us to react to these scenarios either by developing novel responses or by acting more autonomously depending on our familiarity. This way of thinking is related to creative intelligence—that is, our ability to generate solutions to new problems as they confront us based on experiences that we have already had.
Finally, contextual thinking is our ability to identify what is happening in the environment around us and make decisions based on those circumstances. We may choose to adapt to our environment by changing it, dealing with it, or leaving it. Practical intelligence is measured in our ability to figure out how to adapt to our environment, wherever and whatever it may be.