Saturday, April 25, 2009


This is a post I wrote on MySpace on December 8, 2008. In the interest of promoting recycling, I will now copy that blog here. I believe that it is as applicable today as it was a few months ago.

I just saw an internet ad claiming "so-and-so has a 125 IQ. Are you smarter?" as a lure to get me to take some form of online IQ test. I declined.

I have taken IQ tests in various forms, from television quizzes to achievement tests to the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (or ASVAB; it's a test required for entry into any of the Armed Forces) and who knows what else. I couldn't tell you my IQ right off hand; I think it's above average and just below genius. So they tell me.

Our culture places a huge value on intelligence. Our culture also places a huge value on quantifying often intangible things. So of course, there's a great desire to see intelligence quantified as well. I recently read a book called "How Would You Move Mt. Fuji?" (written by William Poundstone, Little, Brown publisher) that deals with various types of puzzles and tests, and it deals with the story of how modern IQ tests got started. For the record, they were often weighted to fulfill the expectation that those who had better education, came from more affluent backgrounds, and were typically white would get the highest scores. (This was back when school systems were largely still segregated.) So the tests were a good measure of one's ability to take the test, but not necessarily of one's innate intelligence.

Here's what gets me about this: intelligence isn't everything. Much has been said about this or that politician's intelligence during election cycles. It's a bit of a wash when both candidates have Ivy League backgrounds (i.e. 2000: Bush went to Yale, Gore went to Harvard; 2004: Kerry also went to Yale) but yet again, Ivy League education isn't everything. Particularly in the area of leadership, intelligence isn't enough. Something else is even more important, and it isn't much talked about: judgement.

Lots of people are book-smart, and a lot of people have great intuition about a particular field that fascinates them. But judgement is a rare quality--the ability to determine what is the best option, to weigh evidence, to consider possible outcomes, to know when and where to inject character and emotion into a set of cold statistics. It is also the ability to weigh practical outcomes within a set of ethical parameters and know when (or if) to place one above the other. If there were some way to measure this quality, it would be far more valuable than an IQ score.

Remember, the people who run our financial institutions and our government have (by and large) attended the best schools and reached the pinnacle of their chosen professions. Clearly they are intelligent. But what does our current situation say about their judgement?

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