Practical Intelligence

practical intelligenceIntelligence is mostly associated with the ability of a person to solve problems and his general cognitive abilities. However, there is no generalized definition that can either help to understand or identify intelligence or help to quantifiably measure it. There have been attempts by various psychologists and researchers to try and measure intelligence, both in general and specific knowledge areas, but they have somehow fell short of conclusively proving that this is a concrete measurable field of study. As it seems researchers have yet to conclusively get a grasp of the human mind and its capabilities. However, having said that intelligence and more importantly practical intelligence is a necessary pre-requisite to be successful in most walks of life including business leadership.

General Intelligence

Before the concept of practical intelligence and field specific intelligence studies there was the concept of General Intelligence measurement. This concept of measuring a person’s intelligence, also referred to as ‘g’, was devised by British psychologist Charles Spearman. He came up with a system known as Factor Analysis. You can call this the precursor of the modern IQ tests. These were to a large extent based on academics. His research deduced, that when tested, the patterns of results were similar across all the tests. Meaning, when one person fared well in one test, he also fared well in the others. Conversely, when someone fared poorly in one test he fared poorly in almost all of them. This lead to the general idea that intelligence is the basic cognitive ability of a person and that it can be tested and expressed as a numerical value. This was however challenged by the research of Dr.Sternberg and his colleagues.

Dr. Sternberg’s Research on Intelligence Measurement

Dr.Sternberg, a Yale University researcher, deduced that in order for a person to be successful in life he has to have a combination of analytical, practical and creative intelligence. This theory is also known as the Triarchic Theory of Intelligence. Together these attributes will help him to not only find solutions to everyday academic problems but also deal with the problems that are more real-life and require much more detailed and methodical approach for resolution. The following course on critical thinking helps you to apply analytical, practical and creative intelligence attributes into your life.

Practical Intelligence and Business Applications

An individual with good combination of analytical, practical and creative intelligence is likely to be able to perform better in most pursuits in life, including business. He will be able to use his intelligence to successfully frame goals for his business as well as conjure new ideas that breathes life into his endeavors. Practical intelligence as defined by him is something that gives an individual the power to suit his solutions according to the requirements of the problem. Reading the definition that Dr.Sternberg and his colleagues had laid down, one can deduce that it is very similar to common sense.

Sternberg further stated that each of the above intelligence factors have their own functions. E.g., creative intelligence helps the person to identify new ideas. These ideas help him to develop products and services. Analytical intelligence can be compared to a sounding board. This factor is essential to ‘sound out’ the ideas and have them validated before they are implemented. The third and final cog in the wheel is practical intelligence and this is what tells the individual how to sell the ideas that he has created and validated.

IQ Test and Practical Intelligence

So, will a person considered to have a high IQ be considered to also have practical intelligence? Not really and certainly not always. Coming back to the research of Dr.Sternberg and his team to find an answer to this valid question. They found out that human intelligence can be manifold and they tend to influence the different spheres of their lives. While one type of intelligence is suitable for problem solving in one sphere of life, it may not be that effective in problem solving in another sphere of life. Let’s say a person has a high academic knowledge but poor practical knowledge. So while he is capable of solving problems that are thrown at him from the academic realm, problems that have been created by other academicians and have a structure to them, he however, may not be capable of solving problems from the practical realm which are not exactly ‘well-defined’. In the latter case he may very well fail because such problems not only require a solution but also needs identification of the problem in the first place. Additionally, such problems may require him to find additional information before he can seek out to solve it.

Howard Gardner and Theory of Multiple Intelligences

Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences is an alternate theory of an individual’s intelligence. This is completely different to what Charles Spearman deduced. Howard Gardner suggested that individuals have all kinds of intelligences, there being nine different kinds of it as he concluded, including one that was “existentialist intelligence”. This theory of multiple intelligences was first expressed in his book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. This concept farther deduced that individuals cannot be stereotyped into having the same type of intelligence across the demographic. Different people have different types of intelligences. So, while some may have exemplary command over music, others are extremely creative in general problem solving while still others may have exceptional mathematical expertise. There is a dedicated following for this theory, in spite of the fact that Howard Gardner did not provide conclusive proof or evidence to support his theory. This concept, on the other hand, has been criticized because in apparent view these seem to be specific talents rather than intelligences.

Some of Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences Theory Examples

Visual Spatial Intelligence

This is one of the intelligences as mentioned by Gardner. People with great visual-spatial intelligence have extremely good grasp over visualizing things. They are excellent in maps and chart reading, can identity patterns very well, excellent with puzzles as well as show talent in painting, photography and other forms of visual arts. The character of Captain (Later Major) Winters in the television series Band of Brothers is an excellent example of this intelligence trait.

Linguistic / Verbal Intelligence

People blessed with this intelligence are good with words. They are good communicators as well as writers and can often remember literary works better than the rest. Usually these are the people who turn out as literary geniuses. Gardner’s classification of linguistic intelligence certainly point at writers, linguists and others with essential language skills.

Interpersonal Intelligence

People with this intelligence traits are extremely good with communication with others. These are the people who can not only motivate others but also have great leadership skills. They are also good at being counselors, recruiters, psychologists and other positions where a lot of interactions are required with others. This is the most essential of all people skills. People with interpersonal intelligence are suitable for conflict resolution. They are an asset to any business or organization.

Tacit Knowledge

What Dr. Sternberg’s research further deduced is that the ‘g’ factor which Charles Spearman referred to is but a mere representation of the academic aptitude of an individual. He clearly made a difference between this and what he reckoned as practical knowledge by mentioning that the latter is what is ‘tacit knowledge’. He further explained that tacit knowledge is more practical as it is assimilated over a course of time by exposure to practical problems and solving such problems in real-life situations. His is more of a self-study kind of a thing with little or at times no help or interactions with academic or other sources.

The biggest disadvantage of tacit knowledge is also that it is experienced based, in the sense that the experience is limited to only specific problem solving areas. An individual who has tacit knowledge and no academic (general aptitude based on academic studies) is likely to be limited in his problem solving abilities. Needless to say, they will be limited to the areas where he is experienced.

A Word on Alfred Binet’s IQ Test

This discussion would not be complete without a reference to Alfred Binet’s IQ test methodology. This is because long before practical intelligence was conceived by Dr.Sternberg or Howard Gardner devised the Multiple Intelligences Theory Alfred Binet devised a way to assess the intelligence of a human. Back in 1900 Alfred Binet, a French psychologist, was requested by the French government to devise a method which can help teachers identify students in schools who require more assistance in their education. These are the special students (the so called less than average group).  Binet devised this system which today is the basis of all IQ tests. What Binet did was introduce a system of mental age. He would later go on to devise a series of questions that were aimed at children of a specific age. If a children younger to the target age answers those questions then he / she is considered to be having a mental age that is higher than their peers. On the other hand if they could not answer the questions meant for their age then they have a mental age that is lower than their peers. Now there are a lot of ways to prepare mentally and emotionally for test taking, but preparation, no matter what the age or IQ, is essential for success.