Life After Full-time Work Blog

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#135 Many Forms Of Intelligence

There’s more to your mind than just IQ


My theme is: intelligence is not the same as IQ. There are in fact many forms of intelligence, and I’ll focus on analytical, emotional and practical intelligence.


Intelligence is a general term, meaning the ability to acquire and use knowledge and skills. Many people have this ability in different contexts, being better at some things than at others. So it doesn’t make sense to think of the traditional “IQ” (Intelligence Quotient) as measuring all that matters. How did that confusion start?

In 1904 Frenchmen Theodore Simon and Alfred Binet developed the first test. Ironically, it was not actually aimed at measuring innate intelligence. More prosaically, they wanted to distinguish between intellectually disabled children and those that were normally intelligent but lazy. Their form of test is still used today, and the result is interpreted as follows: your IQ is the ratio of your mental age to your chronological age. It’s usually expressed in percentage form. So, for example, if you’re 25 but have the intelligence of a 30-year-old, your IQ is 100×30/25 = 120.

(Mind you, I’d hate to be 75 and considered to have the intelligence of a 90-year-old, which would give the same result of 120! I don’t know how they account for declining mental capabilities as one ages.)

In 1985 Robert Sternberg expanded the notion to a “triarchic theory of intelligence,” identifying three forms of mental activity that help us cope with life. One is analytical: being able to take problems apart and find solutions. This is the form most closely mirroring IQ tests. The second is creative: the ability to be intellectually flexible and innovative. (It turns out that people who are good at the first one usually aren’t good at the second one.) And the third is practical: being able to act in a way your current context requires.

Of course this led to the criticism that you can’t measure these things. And that applies even more to the slightly earlier (1983) formulation by Howard Gardner, who proposed 8 forms of intelligence: linguistic (“word smart”); logical-mathematical (“number/reasoning smart”); spatial (“picture smart”); bodily-kinesthetic (“body smart”); musical (“music smart”); interpersonal (“people smart”); intrapersonal (“self smart”); and naturalist (“nature smart”). He later added existential (“why are we here”) and teaching (“instructing others”). And others have suggested that his criteria should lead to the addition of digital (“interacting with computers”).

Whew, too complicated! I’ll stick with Sternberg.

Then in 1995 Daniel Goleman popularized the concept of emotional intelligence, which had in various forms been around for 30 years.

So by now it should be clear that IQ is an outmoded measure of general intelligence, since intelligence takes so many different forms.

I took a closer look at understanding analytical, emotional and practical intelligence. I’m not sure why: perhaps because I tend to see them as broadly-based rather than Gardner’s narrower forms. And for the moment I’m omitting creative intelligence, as I need to do more research to resolve the notions – are they competing, or capable of being reconciled? – that creativity resides in our subconscious minds, and that we can increase our creativity. As I’m very uncreative, this is important for me to study!


Analytical intelligence is essentially the ability to be logical. Break down a problem into component parts. Recognize patterns. Be able to predict logical outcomes. With this sort of intelligence, the odds are that you’re good in an academic environment and can get to grips with abstract concepts. You probably learn by watching and reading. You’re particularly good at problems that have only one correct answer. (Sudoku is probably something you enjoy, I’m guessing.)

Of the more specific forms of intelligence (a la Gardner), analytical intelligence is cited as helping with linguistic, mathematical and spatial abilities.

OK, in my career as a pension investment consultant I worked with lots of people of that type.


Emotional intelligence relates to understanding and recognizing your own emotions and those of others. So, looking internally, you’re self-aware and balanced and good at controlling yourself. You can say “no” to yourself, and let mistakes go. Looking at others, you have empathy: you recognize their feelings and take them into account in your dealings with them. This probably helps you to win their trust, and to motivate them. More subtly, you’re good at delivering feedback in a constructive way. You’re good at developing relationships.

EQ is the emotional equivalent of IQ, so yes, there are measures of it that come out of various kinds of tests.

I’m guessing that it’s not common to have both a high IQ and a high EQ. High-IQ types probably have the left side of their brain dominant, while high-EQ types probably have the right side of their brain dominant. But what a powerful combination that would be, to have a high IQ as well as a high EQ!


Practical intelligence is the ability to find a fit between yourself and the demands of a situation. So you can do things, you can adapt, you can adjust. Your knowledge reveals itself in procedural know-how rather than as abstract concepts. You have common sense! Quite possibly you acquired this knowledge through experience rather than academically – sometimes called “street smarts.” In fact others may have had the same experiences, but you’re the one who learned from them.

Again, this is not necessarily correlated with IQ.


From those short, simple descriptions, it’s clear that these are different forms of intelligence. There’s no ranking to place them in order of importance: they’re all desirable.

All of which says to me that IQ is only a small part of the story, even if it’s the one that has had the most publicity over the years. Perhaps its prominence came about because it’s the kind that university professors tend to have, and our education system reflects that aspect, and we associate university education with intelligence. Which unfairly demeans all those who have just as much intelligence, only of different kinds.

Psychiatrist Dr Iain McGilchrist says that recent research shows that the left/right brain characterization as the seats of rational/emotional feelings is out-dated and greatly oversimplified. He explains that the left brain focuses on the symbols and conceptual rules of life and jumps to conclusions based on these abstractions, while the right brain has social and emotional connections to the world and makes better and more complete judgments. In a sense, the left brain deals with small things and the right brain with the big picture. He goes so far as to say that the right brain actually has a higher IQ than the left brain. So much for measuring IQ via abstract concepts and demeaning other forms of intelligence!



Different kinds of intelligence make us good at different kinds of things.


I have written about retirement planning before and some of that material also relates to topics or issues that are being discussed here. Where relevant I draw on material from three sources: The Retirement Plan Solution (co-authored with Bob Collie and Matt Smith, published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2009), my foreword to Someday Rich (by Timothy Noonan and Matt Smith, also published by Wiley, 2012), and my occasional column The Art of Investment in the FT Money supplement of The Financial Times, published in the UK. I am grateful to the other authors and to The Financial Times for permission to use the material here.

2 Responses to “#135 Many Forms Of Intelligence”

  1. Ted Harris says:

    Knowing your type of “I” can be a real advantage in how you live your life and what you pursue as an occupation or hobby. Understanding and appreciating others’ “I” helps with communication, expectations, teamwork and appreciation. Without this diversity, would one type of “I’ be enough to move us forward?

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