Can the ability to think predict success?

Sitting around our NY office, the Psynet Group team was working on a concise and measurable definition of a leader for the core of our executive leadership assessment. When we came up with “A leader can develop a strategic plan; execute against that plan; and inspire others to execute their role in the plan,” we knew we had a winner. Most leadership assessments heavily emphasize Emotional Intelligence Quotient (EQ), Moral Intelligence Quotient (MQ), Cultural Intelligence Quotient (CQ) and some even include Body Intelligence Quotient (BQ). The developers of these assessments are like most of us whose image of a leader is of one who inspires. I don’t know many people whose image of a leader is a person surrounded by spread sheets and data, generating pathways to success, thinking about alternative solutions, and making important decisions. I can count on two hands the truly useful advice and insights I received in graduate school. One of those rare nuggets came from a professor who said: “If I could only give one assessment, it would be cognitive and not personality.” Robert Sternberg* and his research team found support for that idea in 2001 when they discovered that IQ predicts as much as 30% of a leader’s success.  When I blended the results of three of our pilot studies, I learned why this statement was so important. The PHACT (Popple Hybrid Assessment of Critical Thinking) was recently used to predict executives performance levels based on performance appraisals. The abilities to use logic and deductive reasoning as well as making wise judgments and effective inferences seemed to be clear differentiators between good enough and exceptional. For the sake of clarity, not every exceptional executive scored highly nor did every average executive score poorly.  For example, 31% of the executives who “met expectations” scored above the 50th percentile in reasoning. However, 84% of the high performing executives scored above the 50thpercentile on the same subscale. The ability to predict with 100% certainty is impossible with any assessment but the odds of getting a star are improved significantly by the use of this measure. While the ability to differentiate among performance levels using the PHACT was quite good, the results were less impressive when the same people took the Psynet Group CARA 25**, which measures abstract reasoning. It seems like most of the participants were pretty smart and there were exceptional scorers and average scorers at all performance levels in all three companies. The few who scored poorly either had dyslexia or did not complete the entire assessment. As a result, we could not predict who was an average performer and who was exceptional by measuring abstract reasoning alone. But didn’t I just say that the ability to think predicted success? Yes and no. For an executive to be successful, they do need a certain amount of cognitive horsepower but most of them do not reach the point of consideration without being fairly bright. Once the minimum level of IQ is reached, the differentiator appears to be the ability to apply that intelligence effectively.  I further make the case that applying intelligence effectively is a learned skill. In 2007 I created a critical thinking course that became one of my passions. To make sure that the course delivered the expected results, we performed validation studies with several of our clients.  We gave our critical thinking assessment before implementing a better thinking program. 140 participants from 3 separate companies went through 2 days of effective thinking training. In two of the cases, the training took place over two days. In the other, it was delivered a half day every week for a month.  After a minimum of two months following the course, they were asked to take the assessment again (The longest time between participating in the course and retesting was about a year). Of the 115 who were willing to undergo a second round, no one scored worse and the average participant improved their score by 20 percentile points. IQ may not change much but it is clear that people can learn to think. What does all this mean?

  1. The ability to think should be a major factor in hiring and promotion decisions.
  2. Succession planning must include a way to improve thinking skills

To find out more about improving results by improving thinking skills, reach out to us at [email protected]

* Sternberg, Robert J., Elena L. Grigorenko, and Donald A. Bundy. “The Predictive Value of IQ.” Merrill – Palmer Quarterly 47.1 (2001) **The Psynet Group CARA 25 is used to assess abstract reasoning, It correlated highly (r=.82) with non-verbal reasoning scale on the WAIS IV (An adult IQ test delivered in person by a professional). In other words, this assessment is pretty good at predicting non-verbal IQ at a much lower cost.

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