A narrow focus on IQ to determine success is depriving us of key decision-making smarts, as our faltering response to problems such as covid-19 and climate change shows
13 January 2021
IMAGINE a world in which admission to the top universities – to Oxford or Cambridge, or to Harvard or Yale – were limited to people who were very tall. Very soon, tall people would conclude that it is the natural order of things for the taller to succeed and the shorter to fail.
This is the world we live in. Not with taller and smaller people (although taller people often are at an advantage). But there is one measure by which, in many places, we tend to decide who has access to the best opportunities and a seat at the top decision-making tables: what we call intelligence. After all, someone blessed with intelligence has, by definition, what it takes – don’t they?
We have things exactly the wrong way round. The lesson of research by myself and many others over decades is that, through historical accident, we have developed a conception of intelligence that is narrow, questionably scientific, self-serving and ultimately self-defeating. We see the consequences in the faltering response of many nations to the covid-19 pandemic, and a host of other problems such as climate change, increasing income disparities and air and water pollution. In many spheres, our ways of thinking about and nurturing intelligence haven’t brokered intelligent solutions to real-world problems.
We need a better way. Fortunately, at least the starting point for this is clear. By returning to a more scientifically grounded idea of intelligence, who can have it and how we set about cultivating it in ourselves and others, we can begin to reboot our decision-making smarts and reshape our world for the better.