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Defining the “I” in IQ

How did we arrive at this (possible) quirk of statistical certainty?

The brain – the most complex organ in the human body, contains over one hundred billion nerve cells, produces our every thought, deed, memory and feeling.  It interprets the chaotic world around us and gives us our sense of “self”.  It’s a remarkable biological achievement.

So isn’t it a little strange that we take the most complex biological structure known to human kind, and believe we can determine its functioning capacity down to a single, numerical IQ score?

IQ testing has been around for well over a century.  In 1904 English psychologist Charles Spearman noticed that children who did well in one subject at school, were also likely to do well in other subjects too.  From this simple observation, Spearman went on to thoroughly research and propose his theory of “general intelligence” (or g factor) which sounds far more exciting than it is.  G factor is the statistical measure of the variance of testing performance between individuals… (told you!)

This g factor represented the birth of intelligence testing as we know it today, and whilst testing for IQ has certainly evolved over time, it’s worth challenging what we really know about IQ and the idea that we can measure it.

Of relevance to the HR profession, particularly in a global context, is the observation that the definition of intelligence is culturally specific, not universal.  In the West where most tests have been developed, speed of thought has long been seen as an indicator of intelligence, which is why many tests often come with a time limit.

But in the East , taking your time to consider and reflect upon a question before committing to an answer is seen as more important.  Should wisdom be rushed?  The old Chinese proverb “the wise are never in a hurry” suggests not.

Charles Spearman famously acknowledged that “Every man, woman, and child is a genius at something. It remains (for us) to discover at what”.  We wholeheartedly support this view, that understanding an individual and their potential is a critical component of our work in the HR profession.

From this understanding we can begin to offer intelligent advice about career paths, management decisions, hiring choices and promotions.  So maybe the idea of g factor and testing it should stay back in 1904 whilst we work hard to understand an individual’s area of strengths, and help them maximise their potential.