Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Talent v. IQ

Practice makes perfect, or does one need to be innately gifted to achieve superior levels of performance in anything? This is the question addressed in a recent New York Times article. Actually, an answer is proposed that would offend proponents of the view that all children are gifted - "strivers" are not capable of the same level of achievement as the gifted.

This idea is directly at odds with recent ideas regarding practice and talent: his book “Outliers,” Malcolm Gladwell observes that practice isn’t “the thing you do once you’re good” but “the thing you do that makes you good.”

Gladwell believes that it is a mixture of practice and timing (e.g., the month of your birth helps determine whether or not you will have a shot at NHL greatness), and that giftedness, although a real thing, plays very little role in "any measurable real-world advantage."


David Brooks, the New York Times columnist, restates this idea in his book “The Social Animal,” while Geoff Colvin, in his book “Talent Is Overrated,” adds that “I.Q. is a decent predictor of performance on an unfamiliar task, but once a person has been at a job for a few years, I.Q. predicts little or nothing about performance.”

This is completely at odds with recent scientific research regarding IQ and success. Study after study corroborates the fact that IQ does matter:

Exhibit A is a landmark study of intellectually precocious youths directed by the Vanderbilt University researchers David Lubinski and Camilla Benbow. They and their colleagues tracked the educational and occupational accomplishments of more than 2,000 people who as part of a youth talent search scored in the top 1 percent on the SAT by the age of 13. (Scores on the SAT correlate so highly with I.Q. that the psychologist Howard Gardner described it as a “thinly disguised” intelligence test.) The remarkable finding of their study is that, compared with the participants who were “only” in the 99.1 percentile for intellectual ability at age 12, those who were in the 99.9 percentile — the profoundly gifted — were between three and five times more likely to go on to earn a doctorate, secure a patent, publish an article in a scientific journal or publish a literary work. A high level of intellectual ability gives you an enormous real-world advantage.


The authors go on to say that practice does matter, and, anecdotally, I have worked with truly profoundly gifted students who were utter failures in school and for a time after. Because they did not "apply themselves" (ridiculous, archaic way to look at it - who wants to apply themself to a useless task?), their grades and achievement in school landed them in the lowest part of their class while their scores on the SAT and ACT earned invitations to gifted programs across the country. Eventually, I have seen, relying on one's formidable intelligence runs out; as I tell my gifted students: you may be smarter than I am, but I know more than you. It is the work that makes one great, even if the native intelligence is present.

It is a combination of hard work and brains - the first highlights the second, but the second will only take you so far without the first.

Now try telling that to a gifted kid...

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