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Intelligence(s) at work

Updated: Apr 21, 2023

This is part of a series focused on different intelligences at work. Check out the list at the end of this blog!


It's 2023. We know that intelligence comes in multiple forms - much broader than can be captured by an IQ test. Most people recognise there are various types of intelligences - after all there's such a wide variety of things to measure proficiency in.

The challenge is that although we might logically know intelligence comes in different forms - we don't always do a good job recognising or valuing it when we see it. I was recently told a story that illustrated this. Someone was describing his son's situation - he had just finished university and was applying for jobs:

My son is in his mid-twenties and is one of those superbly intelligent guys. Very smart. He works in tech - coding and development. He's one of the most detailed people and can solve really complex problems. He can pore over numbers, spreadsheets, and lines of code for hours on end, and produce amazing work.

However, my son has social anxiety. He finds it really hard to strike up conversations with people he's just met, to speak about himself for a long time, and to answer personal questions immediately after they are asked. Unfortunately - that describes every interview he's had - and he's struggling to get past the interview stage.

The job this man was applying for required detailed, nuanced, analytical intelligence. But the interviews aren't necessarily screening for that - they're screening for conversational, social intelligence. Very different. Imagine if this young man was able to do a skills-based interview, as opposed to a conversational one. What might change?

What is intelligence?

What is intelligence? This is not a new question.

Often when people think ‘intelligent’ they think ‘smart.’ And when people think ‘smart’ they go back to their school days - lots of maths, memorisation and tests. Our schooling probably explains why we have such a narrow view on what intelligence is (and isn’t).

American psychologist, Howard Gardner, summarised intelligence as simply being able to do the right thing for the situation. I like that definition because it's contextual.

So what is intelligence? Well, there’s a level of competence involved. You have the ability to complete the task at hand. Intelligence shows up as curiosity - a constant search to learn and try (and fail and try) new things.

Intelligences are like your muscles

Our intelligences are like our muscles in many ways. There's a wide variety and range. Different types are used in different circumstances.

Most importantly for everyone, like our muscles, we can strengthen and grow our intelligences through deliberate practice and exercise.

Throughout this series, we'll look at a range of intelligences that are needed to be successful at work in 2023. And of course - we'll share a range of exercises we can do to strengthen that specific intelligence muscle.

Theories of multiple intelligences

Let’s broaden our view of intelligence. We can start with Gardner (mentioned above). In the 70s he developed the Theory of Multiple Intelligences. Here were the nine intelligences he recognised in this theory:

  • bodily - kinesthetic

  • existential - spiritual

  • logical - mathematical

  • linguistic - communicative

  • interpersonal

  • intra-personal

  • musical

  • naturalistic

  • spatial

What's Gardner missing?

We're a big fan of George Box's famous line, “All models are wrong, some are useful.” Gardner's model gives us a great starting point, but there are a few things it might be missing. Why is musical intelligence highlighted but other creative arts aren't? Painting, graphic design, or singing for example don't cleanly fit into any. Equally there's nothing about creative thinking - future thinking, planning, innovative or design thinking.

Maybe Gardner's problem was that he has too many categories to allow the model to be simple, but not enough categories to cover literally every intelligence.

Robert Sternberg went for a much simpler version. In 1988 Sternberg developed the Triarchic Theory of Intelligence, which divides intelligence into three parts:

  1. Practical - common sense and street smarts

  2. Analytical - academic problem solving and computation

  3. Creative - imaginative and innovative problem solving.

What I like about Sternberg's theory is that things which were previously labelled 'soft skills' actually fall under 'practical.' Social and emotional intelligence, communication skills and connecting to a wider purpose are practical. They help us get things done.

These are just two theories - there are plenty of others. What they have in common is widening how we view, and value, intelligence. We'll be adding to this series on different intelligences by thinking about specific intelligences we can strengthen at work - and ways to do this.

Stay tuned!

Intelligences at work:


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