Does I.Q. Predict Success?

I came across a forum thread discussing this article, which points out that SAT scores and I.Q. tests are high-resolution, strong predictors for the probability that an individual will patent, publish, and/or earn a doctorate. The article goes on to argue that innate talent is more important than hard work for predicting career success.

I think this conclusion misses some of the selection bias inherent in the SAT. I’ve witnessed friends (who happened to be particularly open about their scores) jump several percentile points year over year by attending SAT classes. Hard work and training can, in fact, drastically change how you measure on the SAT and other I.Q. tests, making them not particularly good at directly measuring innate talent. I think it is more likely that those who have the skills and academic drive necessary for academic success are simply more likely to work hard to improve their SAT scores, since good SAT scores are a gateway to good education and high-skill jobs. In other words, those who focus more on trying to look academically successful will inevitably become more successful in academics. It’s just another way of saying that people tend to get what they strive for.

But that’s not to say that intelligence or other innate talents are irrelevant to success. SAT scores and I.Q. test a very specific skill very effectively: the ability to recognize and evaluate simple patterns very quickly. They do not test other forms of intelligence that are easily recognized as crucial components of genius. These include creative inspiration, the ability to break down complex problems into solvable ones, and the ability to flawlessly follow a long trail of logic to its inevitable conclusion.

Have you ever known someone who always thinks carefully and speaks slowly, yet everything they say is absolutely uniquely brilliant? I know several people like this. Those people would score poorly on IQ tests due to the timing of it, but can out-think even the fastest pattern-solvers if you give them the time for it. They simply devote their mental resources towards quality and reflection rather than speed. Some of these individuals even choose not to pursue academic fields, despite their capabilities, preferring instead to focus on other hobbies, like entrepreneurship, art, or developing some component of their personal lives.

All of these forms of intelligence are necessary in some degree for true genius. Even then, genius alone won’t bring you success without confidence, perseverance, and a sense of purpose. The first step to being successful is figuring out how you, in your own life, would define “success.”


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