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IQ and Success: What’s the Real Interaction?

Forrest ChristianCareers, Theory 1 Comment

Malcolm Gladwell reports that “the correlation between I.Q. and occupational success is between 0.2 and 0.3.” That’s more than no correlation at all but much less than we often think. (It also isn’t entirely accurate.) But it seems somewhat counterintuitive. Elliott Jaques has an answer. I’m betting that one’s current capacity of work (your level or work that gets measured by the CIP process) is only loosely correlated with occupational success.

If IQ is correlated to one’s level of current capacity (and that’s a mighty big “if”), it still is only weakly correlated to one’s current capability. Remember that capacity is the level of work you might be capable of, were you fully trained, educated, interested and could fully devote your energy to the job. Capability, on the other hand, is the level of work that you are currently able to do. For people in normal Modes, capacity and capability match up pretty well: you have enough time to develop as you grow that you can grow your capability at about the same rate as your capacity, barring economic disruptions that force you to leave your field. It’s different for the higher Modes. Their current capability is always chasing their current capacity: the tank is growing so fast that they can’t get the gasoline coming in fast enough.

Now let’s add my special sauce and see how all of this might work.

People with steeper growth trajectories — what Jaques called “Higher Mode” — are almost never fully employed. This happens because:

  1. They are always growing faster than they can get the knowledge and skills to perform
  2. They often start work under bosses who are not the next size bigger than they are, who feel like a Real Boss
  3. Their failures under these too-small-bosses make them less likely to find fitting work
  4. As they grow ever larger, at some point they so exceed the technical work that they can’t do it any longer and then fail.

I’m going with my impression that Jaques is wildly wrong in his speculation about how many people inhabit the various modes. I’m pretty sure that it gets smaller in the higher modes but that these people still litter the earth. And of course Warren Kinston has a more nuanced and useful description of levels of work that builds on this idea, expanding it to useful proportions; it would indicate that there are lots of these people laying about.

So if you assume that higher mode individuals have higher IQ, and we see that as they age they do their technical work less and less well, we should find a negative relationship between higher IQ and occupational success in later year. That is, if you took a population of high IQs, you would find that in the set older than 40 there should be a troubling mix of the very successful and the failing.

Plus, if you had someone with a very high mode (these people are so easy to find), they may never find occupational success, especially since they have a disturbing habit of getting killed.

This isn’t to say that IQ correlates with Mode. Jaques didn’t think that it did. But even Mode won’t correlate with occupational success, because higher mode individuals can get caught in spirals of failure entirely due to their intelligence.

People who want to be one of these high mode folks are idiots. It’s like wishing to be covered with boils and forced to carry a large boulder everywhere. And if we take Warren’s position (see his email conversations after the last Toronto conference, if you were in on them) it still doesn’t make things much better.

You want to be 10 minutes ahead of everyone else, not a year.

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