In my post about “Why You High Potentials Get Missed in Your 20s“, Michael Bates commented that “When the curves are so close together, all sorts of mistakes are possible, including a high-potential’s misjudgment of his own potential.”
This is kind of true and kind of not. Let’s take a look at it in more detail.
First, let’s talk about growth trajectories. Most people recognize that growth in mental ability will grow over time for those who at least in the “normal range”. Elliott Jaques studied something different from “general mental ability” (what we call IQ), focusing instead on what is better termed “cognitive complexity”, and which has been studied by several others, including Siegfried Streufert, Peter Suedfeld, John Isaacs, and Brian O’Connor.
To be clear: I’m not talking about “IQ”. Jaques talked about something different. It had to do with who other people would consider a “Real Boss”. You can start at the bottom of the hierarchy in a large company, asking each person “Who is your real boss?” and chart the answers up the organization. People want a boss who can set context and it turns out that this seems to be pretty quantized: there are some discrete breaks and it all appears to be related to how far into the future it takes for your work decisions to come due or demonstrate full results.
It’s true that when we are young, all the trajectories (or “Modes”, as Elliott Jaques called them) are closer together. They depart farther and farther from each other as time goes on. The curves shown in the image are my estimate of the various trajectories. And I should say that although this represents the Jaques and Cason model pretty well, several people, notably those from the U.S. Army, disagree with it. So if you want to dedicate two years of your life in constant training, 4-5 hours per day, totally maxing out all of your psychic energy (think Jerry Rice) then you can probably change your trajectory. Not that it matters: working hard matters more than genius, even if IQ is a major predictor of job performance, especially as jobs get more complex.
Each of these levels marked “Stratum X” in the ability to add value to subordinates in lower levels. A manager in the level “Stratum 4” will not be able to add managerial value to work done by other roles at “Stratum 4”: everyone will feel jammed up. They are a function of how far into the future you can add value to decisions that come due.
You can also think of each as representing an ability to process a particular type of cognitive complexity, in the Streufert and Suedfeld way.
Each of the bands are labeled on the right as “Mode X“. They are developmental trajectories, showing cognitive complexity changes over time. According to the research of Jaques and others over the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, your own development kind of bounces around within these broad trajectory bands. If you get underemployed, you may look like you’re lower but you still process complexity in the same way, still think out (time horizon) the same distance as if you were working at the right level.
You can’t keep a good cognitive complexity down.
NOTE TO “REQUISITE ORGANIZATION” PEOPLE: This was done several years ago from data from CIP interviews that I had done to measure their current level of capability. And, yes, that’s actually where these people coded. As I have observed several times before, I had some of them looked at by Glenn Mehltretter and Michelle Carter, who trained me. These are pretty solid. I would love to be wrong, for their sakes. But I’m not. High Mode people litter the earth.
Take a look at the left side of the graph, when people are in their twenties. By the time we are 22, there is a big difference in the abilities to process cognitive complexity. People in Mode 7 and Mode 6 are already capable of undoing the complexity of problems at Stratum 3. They can’t necessarily do that level of work readily because they don’t have the requisite knowledge and skills.
(I don’t think that there is a Mode 8. But that’s proprietary….)
People who are in Mode 5 and Mode 4 can undo Stratum 2 level complexity, at least mentally. People in Modes 2 and 3 can undo Stratum 1. People in Mode 1 are still working on being able to enter the workforce because they can’t handle the discretion that you need to when you have to do Stratum 1 work. They can’t unravel the complexity and they can’t see that far into the future.
That’s a pretty massive difference. If you look at Jaques’s felt-fair pay grades, it’s a big difference, too.
So they are closer. But even at this early age in their worklife, they are still very different. They feel very different, too. The higher mode folks are more “scattered”. They have less focus. They often come up with conclusions that they cannot entirely support. Their minds seem to be able act like they will later, but then fall over in the details. Weird but really fun to talk with. Well, fun to me. To most folks probably irritating and grating and irresponsible and reckless and unfocused and ….
Later the differences will be even greater. But they aren’t really “close” except early on in life.
This is similar to the problems that people with extraordinarily high IQs (EXHI-IQs) have. EXHI-IQ starts at around 170 on the new standard score scale. MENSA starts at 132 or so. So more than two standard deviations from MENSA entry and over four SIGMA from normal.
The longer time goes on, the less you’re like everyone else.
image credit: Mead Schaeffer, c. 1933. From Good Housekeeping magazine? Via The Golden Age