• Patrick Littorin

What is intelligence - really!?

Intelligence is a loaded word. In books concerning testing and selection, the authors usually write that intelligence, measured by high performance on intelligence tests, is the best instrument to predict success - no matter the job.

Traditionally, intelligence has been defined as the ability to manage information, be a quick learner, be able to think in abstract terms and in several steps, to solve problems and evaluate the consequences. It is thus easy to perceive candidates as better and with greater potential, the more intelligent they are.

However, in recent years this approach has begun to be questioned. The researchers among themselves still agree that the traditional way to define intelligence gives a good predictive power for success, measured as career development, salary level, living conditions, harmonious family relationships, etc.

Nevertheless, predicting performance can be improved significantly. Among other things, states the American researcher Robert Sternberg, there is a form of practical intelligence that is not captured by traditional intelligence tests. He believes that the working life also requires the ability to solve practical problems, to gather information, to work together and not only solve abstract tasks. At work he stresses the importance of creativity as a form of flexible problem solving skill.

Another researcher, Scott Barry Kaufman, emphasizes the importance of dedication and perseverance as key success factors. He believes that success is created through a combination of factors, where traditional intelligence is only a partial explanation. He believes that a person's interest in the job, his commitment and dedication are just as important as intelligence to be able to predict success.

Based on our own research of success factors in various companies, we have seen that intelligence is an important factor. However, not in the sense that it is better the more intelligent the candidate is. Instead, it seems that intelligence is a sort of "hygiene factor"; it seems to be an important success factor to a certain degree. In all of our surveys, where we measure intelligence in two ways, intelligence has been important as long as it reaches a normal level. Contrary to academic research, it would rather seem as if very intelligent people may pose other problems in the workplace. The impression is that they often seem to grow tired of the routine tasks, they cannot stand the less talented managers and they constantly want to learn new things, etc.

Being normally intelligent appears to be great! Instead key success factors in all of the surveys we have done seem to be related to motivation, determination and the will to take responsibility. Nonetheless, when it comes to intelligence, there appears to be a "lower limit". Our surveys show that low scores on intelligence tests can cause problems, which are not compensated by individual motivation, interest and commitment. As a consequence, many of our customers have introduced a lower limit ( "cut value") where candidates are rejected.


Monitor on Psychology, September 2015. Nisbett, R. E. et. al. (2012), 67, 130-159. Intelligence: New findings and theoretical developments. American Psychologist.

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