Belgian royal conservatory's dome, interior with sun. (c) E. Forrest Christian

Does Fluid Intelligence / IQ Matter?

E. Forrest Christian Overachievers, Underachievers 6 Comments

(This continues our discussion about intelligence / IQ testing. Read part 1, Intelligence Testing & IQ: What it is, isn’t.)

The big issue with intelligence tests is this general mental ability (GMA or g) that they measure. This is mostly “fluid intelligence”. It means how quickly you can solve a unique problem. You would think that it would correlate with something like wisdom (or what Keith Stanovich calls rationality) but it doesn’t, at least not much. You can be very smart and do the dumbest things, so to speak. It’s not a paradox: it’s using “smart” to mean “high IQ” and “dumb” to mean “foolish”, in the biblical sense. The Germans had high IQ scores but still elected Hitler.

Which actually raises an important example from Star Trek (TOS) about how being brilliant doesn’t mean you’re wise. (“Patterns of Force”, episode 50, originally aired Feb. 16, 1968) SPOILER ALERT! One of Cap. James Kirk’s favorite professors, John Gill, has gone off the grid. When the Enterprise goes looking for him, they find the planet he was on being run by (and I’m not making this up) Nazis. It turns out that Gill saw that this planet was stunted in its growth. It needed a form of government that would allow them to move quickly up the ladder. Gill, being brilliant, looked back through history for the most efficient form of government. National Socialism in Germany! What strides they made! So he makes himself Fuhrer and things are great until he is overthrown by ambitious men.

Being smart didn’t make him wise. It was the whole point of the episode.

Stanovich is only one of many people who point out that “smart people do dumb things”. Robert Sternberg even wrote a book about it (Why Smart People Can Be So Stupid) but only after people like Feinberg and Tarrant (Why Smart People Do Dumb Things: The Greatest Business Blunders – How They Happened, and How They Could Have Been Prevented). Stanovich makes a pretty convincing argument about why: intelligence is not rationality. (I prefer “wisdom”.) Doing well on an intelligence test does measure something. It’s just that it’s not how you will make decisions.

At issue is what the psychologists of the 19th century called conation. Kolbe may be taking over the term in the States but it has a lively use in other places. Dane Henrik Poulsen even wrote an entire book about it (Conations). The Russians discussed it’s importance. Warren Kinston has pretty much made Will the core of all human endeavour.

Conation is all about striving, the struggle towards a goal. It turns out that measuring conation, which is not really intelligence at all but a form of the mind that is important in its own right, has been pretty much ignored for the last hundred years. Only within the last couple of decades did psychologists start thinking about it again in the West. And it wasn’t many of them. Worse, many of those who say they are measuring conation clearly aren’t. Or at least not well and not unmixed with lots of other things.

Conation clearly more important to achievement than is intelligence. It’s not just about how hard you work but also how you will solve the problem. Smart people may be simply brilliant at Type III errors: they solve the wrong problem precisely. Some of it is how you make decisions – your personal decision-making language, as Kinston argued in a series of articles with Jimmy Algie.

General mental ability (GMA) / fluid intelligence is a real phenomenon and “IQ” tests do a pretty good job of measuring it, so don’t get me wrong. It’s just that intelligence is not a complete picture of cognition. And I say again: I’m no fan of the use of profligate use of the word “intelligence”, if “profligate” is the word that I want. Stanovich MAMBIT (“mental ability measured by intelligence tests”) makes a lot of sense. There’s no reason why intelligence should include things like wisdom or even Stanovich’s rationality. People with low IQ scores can have lots of wisdom — I put forth one of my advisors who scores wildly low on IQ tests but provides me with real wisdom and insight. They are different constructs.

Elliott Jaques always had an uncomfortable relationship with Intelligence Testing and IQ. He was pretty sure that IQ wasn’t related very strongly to the timespan of discretion that he found, where larger roles require incumbents to work farther out before the results are known. There would be some loose correlation, he thought, but nothing big. He certainly kept track of intelligence research. He uses Munia (?) in one of his reports with Gillian Stamp for the Army Research Institute. When Streufert’s tests for cognitive complexity showed no correlation with IQ, Jaques got pretty excited.

The Army has to have done some research correlating predictions from the Career Path Assessment with IQ scores because they would have had them for the officers who went through the CPA. (They test everybody. For everything. All the time.)

I’m not really sure. I think that raw intellectual processing may be partly innate. The twin studies cites by Kaufman showed that IQ was about 50% inheritable. That’s a lot but it’s not everything.

Even Jaquesians have indicated that Elliott Jaques may have been not entirely correct about these development bands of his. Most of us pretty much stay in the path but some people, with a lot of hard work, can gain cognitive complexity. Owen Jacobs believes he can push a person up two modes given them long enough, full time. Essentially you’re in time horizon development for years, full time. Imagine that you’re a pro football player who is given to Jerry Rice to whip into shape. One of my other RO-colleagues says that he is seeing evidence of someone coming up a mode. He thinks that there may be something there, from intense work with people who are higher stratum than you, if you are willing to do the hard work.

Which raise the issue of Talent vs. Hours. Next time.

Image Credit: Belgian royal conservatory’s dome, interior with sun. © 2007 E. Forrest Christian

About the Author

Forrest Christian

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E. Forrest Christian is a consultant, coach, author, trainer and speaker at The Manasclerk Company who helps individuals and companies find insight and solutions to what seem like insolvable problems. Cited for his "unique ability and insight" by his clients, Forrest has worked with people from almost every background, from artists to programmers to executives to global consultants, both as individuals and as leaders of organizations at least as diverse. [contact]

Comments 6

  1. Hey Forrest,

    Crazy coincidence that you are touching on conation! Recently, I have been revisiting Kolbe’s work. I picked up one of her earlier books and have been reflecting on my assessment results. I’ve also been speculating about the conative profile of people I know. I am finding that conation has a lot of explanatory power when trying to understand and predict a person’s behaviour.

    I immediately thought about conation when I came across Kinston’s latest stuff on Willingness. I know that Jaques believed that values are an important determinant of behaviour and they seem to be bound up with conation.

    Speaking of values, your comments about the Star Trek episode got me wondering if the difference between intelligence and wisdom could be a function of values. More specifically, reading about the Star Trek episode I was reminded of the Blue and Red values in Spiral Dynamics. Nazism could be thought of as a hybrid Red-Blue value system gone horribly wrong.

    In a related vein, Islam could be an example of a Blue value system that was created to evolve out of the Red conditions in the middle east at the time.


  2. Hey Forrest,

    Thinking about conation some more, I realized that Marcus Buckingham’s Stand Out assessment might also be getting at a person’s conative profile. Though it is anecdotal, it is easy to see a correlation between my Kolbe profile (6673) and my Stand Out results (Creator-Equalizer).

    The Career Leader assessment focuses explicitly on work values but it also seems to correlate with Kolbe and Stand Out. This is in contrast to DiSC and MBTI in which I have not found much correlation to conative preferences. I think this is because the latter two focus more on affective traits.



  3. Post

    Kolbe just went back to a much older concept. I think she calls it “Conative Intelligence”. Warren calls it “Will” and that gets covered by the idea of Conation. Warren’s conception in the Big Red Book (Working With Values) is much closer to what the old guys meant by conation and the tripartite model of the mind, mostly because it’s “fuzzier” in his root hierarchy, in a specific way.

    And I need to know more about Kolbe. Let me know what you thought of the experience some time.

    I don’t think that values explain things entirely. One can imagine a psychopath having wisdom (which I’ve seen), which would be problematical for a values centrism. It would also imply that people or groups who are “lower” on Spiral are less wise, which is clearly false.

    Not that values don’t play a part, just that they are not everything.

    Your comments about Nazism and Islam are interesting, though. Christianity and Judaism, as earlier “desert” religions, might have similar things in their roots, which perhaps are less pronounced (dunno) now that they have moved from the desert.

  4. Post

    Buckingham has some useful stuff, IMO. (Many disagree.) Conation, as the Will, should be a part of any measure of how you get things done.

    I wonder if conation fell out of favor after WWII because of the Nazi obsession with The Will.

  5. Intelligent people have more intellectual amplitude, for lack of a better word.

    So, they can come up with extremely sophisticated stupidity.

    In fact, some stupid ideas are so extremely complex so that you have to be particularly intelligent to believe them in the first place.

    And with respect to the issue of rationality and wisdom, I think that a lot of it has to do with your ability to grasp the appropriate a priori assumptions about reality.

    To me, rationality is the ability to follow these assumptions.

    Whereas wisdom is more the ability to identify the correct assumptions.

  6. Post

    I like the analogy with amplitude, JP. You’ve hit on one of the great scam laws, too: that you can make highly intelligent people fall over by having a complex set that only they can understand. Or where you play on them being “smart”. “Oh, your friends wouldn’t understand. They’re not as smart as you are….”

    Stanovich’s “rationality” is essentially Bayesian Analysis. Think Nate Silver vs. the conservative (this time) pundits during the last US presidential election.

    Wisdom, as the ancients meant it, is different from even Stanovich’s ideas. It feels like a complex construct to me that is not really related to Elliott Jaques levels of work, either. I’m guessing it has something to do with discernment and differentiation, although I’m not sure I mean that as Streufert did.

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