What Kind of Intelligence Do You Need to Succeed Today?

In my upcoming book, The Intuitive Compass (Jossey, Bass Oct 2011), I write extensively about the need for business leaders to use what I call Intuitive Intelligence to tap into their ability to effectively manage their employees and generate innovative business strategies and solutions in a complex global marketplace. Before I give you a preview of what Intuitive Intelligence is, it is worthwhile to look at how culture, society, and science have tried to understand and measure intelligence.

The human brain has a level of complexity that staggers the imagination. At only 3 pounds in the average adult, it is estimated to contain between 50 and 100 billion neurons. Its ability to heal from some types of traumatic injury is as mysterious as its inability to heal from other types of traumatic injury. Nations, medical institutions, and research institutes have spent enormous sums of money trying to expose its secrets. For most of us, the brain is often equated with intelligence, and intelligence, especially in today’s materialistic culture, is very often equated with the ability to succeed socially and financially.

Intelligence is an umbrella term that generally refers to the ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend and communicate complex ideas, learn quickly and learn from past experiences. Various scientists and doctors have developed elaborate definitions that can help us begin to see the rich possibilities that lie behind the word “intelligence” beyond what we may culturally believe intelligence to be.

Albert Jacquard, a French essayist and geneticist whose work is aimed toward developing a more pluralistic, humanistic view of society, sees intelligence as a potential that each of us can take responsibility to develop. In an interview on television in May 2010 he noted that human beings typically have about 100 billion connections established in their brains at birth and by age 15 that number has grown to 1 million billion connections. If you do the math, that means that in every average second between birth and age 15 we generate 2.5 million new connections. Dr. Jacquard’s take on this is that as human beings we have an ongoing opportunity to develop these connections. He discusses Einstein as an example. Einstein, whose name is used as shorthand for “genius”, was surely intelligent. But, what’s more interesting is to know that Einstein hated not understanding things. He would research things that he didn’t understand. In the act of research he became smarter. And so can we all.

Dr. Jacquard also believes that the concept of gifted children is a dangerous idea. Just as we can influence the self-perception of a little girl by telling her over and over that she is not beautiful, we can also influence her perceived intelligence. Intelligence is no more or less subjective than beauty. You may disagree with that – the idea that Einstein is smart and Heidi Klum is beautiful seems obvious. But, what about Gandhi, what about Michael Jackson? Is the ability to connect emotionally to people not a form of genius? Is it any less relevant culturally? Dr. Jacquard posits that intelligence is far too subtle and multidimensional to subject it to any hierarchical categorization.

Linda Gottfredson, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Delaware and co-director of the Johns Hopkins Project for the Study of Intelligence and Society, appears to agree. In her foreword to a paper entitled “Intelligence and Social Policy” she says that intelligence is “a very general mental capability … not merely book learning, a narrow academic skill, or test-taking smarts … it reflects a broader and deeper capability for comprehending our surroundings –“catching on,” “making sense” of things, or “figuring out” what to do.”

For those of us who are searching for something more concrete, there have been pioneers in the understanding of intelligence coming from a much more multidimensional approach than the traditional ones, including Howard Gardener. In Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, Gardener, a Professor of Cognition and Education as well as Psychology at Harvard University, identifies nine different types of intelligence: linguistic, logical-mathematical, musical, body-kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, naturalistic, and existential. Of the nine, only two (linguistic and logical-mathematical) receive significant attention in the formal education system. Also, he has not formed a methodology to test these types of intelligence because, like Dr. Jacquard, he believes that such tests can only lead to labeling and stigmatization, neither of which is helpful for the development of intelligence.

Finally, Dr. Gerd Gigerenzer, author of a book entitled Gut Feelings that explores the role of instinct in our daily life, notes that it would be erroneous to assume that intelligence is necessarily conscious and deliberate. He gives an example that many of us can easily relate to: many native speakers of a particular language can immediately tell whether a sentence is grammatically correct or not, but few can verbalize the grammatical principles. His conclusion is that we often know more than we can explain.

These various definitions and theories of intelligence put forth by leading scientific minds give us insights about how culture and the educational system seek to categorize people, nurturing some and marginalizing others. They remind us that intelligence is a multifaceted phenomenon. So then, with so many definitions of intelligence already crowding research journals and popular media, how is Intuitive Intelligence different and what is it exactly?

Intuitive Intelligence is not a new definition of intelligence, nor is it a measure of intelligence, it is rather a way of understanding and making conscious some of the information that we already have and mobilizing it to help us achieve our business and personal goals.

Intuitive Intelligence has four key tenets that can help shape a novel business approach focusing on innovation to drive sustainable growth and overcome the specific challenges of the new economy. The four tenets are:

Thinking Holistically: The ability to conceptualize and focus on 360° value rather than exclusively on profit

Thinking Paradoxically: The ability to understand and accept that the most efficient route to one’s goals may not be linear and may appear completely illogical

Listening for the Unusual: The ability to notice the unusual or the irrational at the same time that you listen with an ear that analyzes and evaluates

Leading by Influence: The ability to relinquish control from the perspective of a traditional, hierarchical type of leadership and instead inspire autonomy and ownership of shared goals in your team

In future blogs I will talk about each of these tenets in a little more depth, and, of course, my upcoming book, The Intuitive Compass, explores each thoroughly and gives examples of Intuitive Intelligence in action in some of today’s leading global companies.

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