Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Practical Intelligence and Outliers

Extending his “Trouble with Geniuses” concerns, Malcolm Gladwell offers insight about those particular skills that give talented people the extra edge to become outliers. Too often, we assume, Gladwell suggests, that success is based purely on people’s intellect or physical talents. Genetics tend to play vital roles, but they are hardly the sole determining factors.

To describe the differences between a highly intelligent yet underachieving person and a highly intelligent and successful one, Gladwell highlights psychologist Robert Sternberg’s concept “practical intelligence,” which includes “‘knowing what to say to whom, knowing when to say it, and knowing how to say it for maximum effect.’” Practical intelligence is “knowledge that helps you read situations correctly and get what you want. And, critically, it is a kind of intelligence separate from the sort of analytical ability measured by IQ.”

The practical intelligence that Gladwell presents can also be thought of as a kind of “social savvy,” an ability to skillfully negotiate multiple communal and professional environments. Those high IQ folks whom Galdwell mentioned who seemed to squander their talents were actually people who lacked “a community around them that prepared them properly for the world.”

Gladwell mentions that children of middle class and wealthy parents, more so than children of less well-off parents, “learn a sense of entitlement” and as a consequence become socially savvy or develop higher degrees of practical intelligence. How did you respond to Gladwell’s ideas about the roles of wealth and parenting in the lives of those who are more likely to become highly successful?

Or, to look at this from another angle on these topics, we know that SIUE students who wish to improve their academic and analytical abilities in their classes tend to go to the library and tutoring sessions, or they commit themselves to longer hours of studying. Ok, cool. But where would SIUE students interested in elevating their practical intelligence go to improve their skills, and what do they commit themselves to doing?


Samantha Martin said...

I agreed with the idea that Gladwell illustrated that parents shaping their children to feel a sense of entitlement plays a role in their eventual success in life. If all parents teach their children the notion of they can be whatever they want to be, it is more likely the child will believe this and not only strive to be the best they can be, but feel they deserve success for hard work.

At SIUE, learning practical intelligence could be done at places like the Career Development Center. This program helps students learn how to conduct themselves in interviews with potential employers and create resumes, which is the ultimate testament of your accomplishments and who you are. This type of center is necessary, because real life skills like this are not taught in the classroom.

People who want to learn "practical intelligence" commit themselves to not only feeling entitled but to asserting themselves in all aspects of life. Like Gladwell says, "pratical intelligence" and intellect do not necessarily correlate, but both can shape the way an individual reacts in the world around them and determine their success in life.

H. Rambsy said...

I agree to an extent that parents should "teach their children the notion of they can be whatever they want to be." But I also worry that that approach could be somewhat misleading.

What might be more important is the kind of *reasoning* between a parent and child that leads to broader understandings of the world and deeper engagements with people at different stages of their lives.

Randy P. Jones said...

I had parents that what I later attributed to just a lack of education and fear of the unknown, that was very abusive. My mom believed that blacks would never amount to much “the phrase she would use on me”. Yet as a young boy I understood why she felt that way, her parents were sharecroppers and theirs were slaves.

Now their parenting skills could have been a lot better, yet they didn’t have the knowledge to make it better. I on the other hand have sought out many books to be a better parent, yet there were still road blocks. And I attribute that to my parents and their parents and so on.

It’s like making a cake. Try to use cornmeal instead of flour, or rotten eggs instead of nice fresh eggs, even better soymilk instead of whole milk. You will get a finished product but it will not be good to eat. Wealth and parenting from my perspective plays a role just not a complete role. From my real life experiences I have not at this time came across someone who was wealthy and had a healthy sense of entitlement. I mean they had a somewhat god complex.

If they somehow balanced that with humility I would think that would have been social savvy. There are times when I think I operate with the practical intelligence I needed to land a job or convince people to see things my way; however I looked at it as using my street smarts. My coming to SIUE was in hopes of getting an education to see if that would be the switch that turns on what I think is lying dormant in me.

Aurelia Daniels said...

I think that students here at SIUE could get help developing more "practical intelligence" by involving ourselves in some activities that help our character. Students can involve themselves in Greek life and other leadership programs to help them learn how to work with other and take charge as well.

I think that students that part take in different things on campus such as Greek life or leadership programs are able work with people to help achieve a specific goal and they learn how not just to stand out and be seen but to be seen doing something positive with out feel like they are being an outcast or a "loser."

I think that once a student is in a program that will stimulate not only their mind, but their character as well they will be able to discern when it is beneficial to speak up and when it is wise to keep quiet.

H. Rambsy said...

Randy: thanks for sharing. Your post raises a number of issues that will give me much more to think about.

I feel you on encountering wealthy folks with "a somewhat god complex."

On the other hand, I've also encountered large numbers of middle class and wealthy classmates and students who seemed more adequately primed and prepared to negotiate academic institutions. That preparation seems notable and consequential.

Brent Hitchens said...

I believe that parents often mislead their children by telling them that their major in college has to be whatever their parents tell them it has to be. Practical intelligence to me, has to match the type of personality a particular individual has and reflect the type of person they are. Yet, many students are not satisfied when they graduate because not only have they graduated with the inappropriate degree, but also they are disappointed in themselves. Additionally,practical intelligence can be very well be achieved at SIUE, one must only work hard and like what they are studying to be.

K. Quon said...

Just as Gladwell explains, I believe that the culture and surroundings of individuals make an impact on how successful a person can become.Even though I believe having great support from family is important in shaping a child's life, not all successful individuals come from supportive families, but through mentors.

Individuals at SIUE have many options to elevate their practical intelligence.There are many clubs and associations pertaining specific professions, Greek life groups, and volunteer opportunities here at SIUE.

Amanda Monla said...

I disagreed with Gladwell on his ideas of wealth and parenting. In order to be a good parent, you don't have to be rich. A parent is a good parent when they support their child no matter what, and love and comfort them throughout their life.
Students at SIUE could learn practical intelligence just by getting involved around campus. They could just go out with friends and meet new people, or they could go to the events that happen around campus. By getting involved, it will help them to grow as a person.

Chardae Gray said...

I agree with Gladwell's theory on practical intelligence being more prevalent in middle class or wealthy families or giving a sense of entitlement. However a person's lack of upbringings may inspire them to do better for themselves and their family. In regards to SIUE students, I think practical intelligence can take place at the new Student Success Center because they have various outlets for students to participate such as student government.This gives the students a chance to gain social status by speaking out on issues that are important to them in their higher learning. Another facility that can be of assistance is the Kimmel Leadership center which can help students gain leadership qualities and give back to the community.

Amber Lewis said...

I believe that first students have to have it in their mind that they want to commit to such a task. Some students i know, know that are slacking and know that they are not up to par with their grades but somehow they need an extra push.
The place they would go, in my opinion would be the library and with a friend who can help them and then once they realize how much they can gain form going to library their confidence level will go up and they will learn that giving themselves an extra push helps too.
As far as Gladwell, I agree with him on the parents relationship with the child. When the child sees that their parents are confident in them and they know that they have someone there that is good for them in life, they would want to make their parents proud as well as themselves.

H. Rambsy said...

Hard work is often overrated. Or perhaps I should say overstated. Now, I'm not saying working hard doesn't matter. No.

I'm just thinking that we sometimes highlight hard work over all those other determining factors for people's success.

As Gladwell was noting, people who really succeed are "invariably the beneficiaries of hidden advantages and extraordinary opportunities and cultural legacies that allow them to learn and work hard and make sense of the world in ways that others cannot."

Tina Messenger said...

"Practical Intelligence" is something that I have personally struggled with my whole life. It is the part of the equation that has always been missing for me to become truly successful. I don't blame my parents because I truly believe that they did their best with what they were given but there has to be some venue for individuals to receive this.

Often times when I assert myself I am labeled too aggressive while others around me assert themselves are able to command situations.

At SIUE, learning practical intelligence needs to be a part of every majors curriculum. When is it appropriate to speak up and when is it not.

I totally empathized with Chris Langon in Chapter 4, he tried so hard to make his dreams come true but he just couldn't get the outcome that he wanted or deserved.

How does one fit in when you come from different backgrounds and better yet how does one influence opportunities like the ones Robert Oppenheimer was given even though he tried to murder someone.

H. Rambsy said...

Thanks for the sincere points, Tina. I agree with what your post, I think, suggests: we have not yet done enough to prepare students in the areas of practical intelligence.

As you said, that kind of social savvy training "needs to be a part of every majors curriculum." So far, it's not so widespread, so it's something we need to consider.

H. Rambsy said...

A number of you have mentioned that Greek organizations and leadership programs are the places folks at SIUE can go to gain more practical intelligence. I'm not yet convinced.

That could be because of where I'm positioned at the university; it's very likely for me to miss these things.

I'm interested in hearing more specifics about how those organizations and programs really enhance people's practical intelligence.

Dan Shields said...

I believe that Greek systems dont necessarily enhance "practical intellegence". I know several Greeks who do not know how to conduct themselves in a professional manner.Practical intellegence is learned. Many have reached the college level without mastering this skill. This has to do with your surroundings, culture ,upbringing, and a desire to want to learn.
While SIUE is advancing its student resources by adding the Student recource center and opening up more doors for student advancement, the student must have a want to advance themselves or it wont happen. I agree with Tina that "Practical Intellegence" should be a part of every majors majors curriculum, because many a student has never been exposed to it.

Tricia Johnson said...

I agree on Gladwell's idea about wealth and parenting. I work at a country club; I've been employed there for almost 7 years and I take care of doctors,lawyers, judges,business owners,etc and their families everyday. It's a private establishment; from my personal experiences I can say that wealthy children definitely have advantages over middle and lower class children. Wealthy children are exposed at an earlier age to the world, often recieve better education, and have an early start learning the concept of business and doing whatever they want to do when they grow up. Their parents give them the best;frequent trips out of the country, private schools, private colleges, and jobs right out of college. A lot of parents that own businesses have their children right there with them teaching them how to run it while they are young. Wealthy people also have their own social network where everyone knows everyone and their children all attend the same schools. Their parents exposing them to these different situations early and training them is how they develop their "social saavy" skills. A lot of middle class children may be exposed to some of these things but wealthy children definitely have the advantage, and lower class children usually never get the opportunity. But the key to raising a successful child with practical intelligence takes parent(s)that are always involved and that do all they can to educate their child, and you don't necessarily have to be wealthy to do it.

H. Rambsy said...

Tricia: Thanks for sharing. Where you work gives you a really good vantage point to see things that might be beyond the view of many of the rest of us.

You were saying, generally speaking of course, that more well-to-do parents "exposing [their children] to these different situations early and training them is how they develop their 'social saavy' skills."

Yes, there are some distinct advantages that the "haves" get, which the so-called "have nots" don't. Trying to identify those advantages seems vital if we are to understand these stories of success.

Tina Messenger said...

I am not convinced that the Greek System will assist on in learning "Practical Intelligence" - please correct me if I'm wrong but isn't it a little expensive to join a sority or fraternity? Most individuals that I know that are struggling to pay for school can't join the Greek System because they have to work as well as go to school.

I believe that the Student Leadership Development Program is a great place to start to develop one's "practical intelligence", I wish that there was a program like that when I worked on my 1st degree, it would have made entry into the business world so much smoother for me.

Anonymous said...

I think that for the most part, Gladwell is spot on with his belief that children who come from wealthier backrounds become more successful than those who have poorer backrounds. Sure there are cases of successful, self-made men and women who came from impoverished means, but in their cases, their environment was a stimulus for success, not a deterrent.
Like the third graders from Lareau's study, children are placed into categories very early on. Children are continually categorized, even into the high school level. I know for a fact that secondary teachers who teach "honors" or "accelerated" courses are of far better quality compared to those who do not. Therefore, the students who are already at a disadvantage are being taught by apathetic teachers. It seems to me that they are almost destined for failure. I agree that it would be great for SIUE to offer programs to build "practical intelligence;" however, I think it would be much more useful if programs were available at the elementary or secondary levels for students who are not "better off" to experience practical learning.
K. Phouangmalay

Kamrey Mcnutt said...

I agree with Gladwell's argument that you can have two geniuses and one experience success and one does not. Gladwell's example of Langan and Oppenheimer were great examples of why one person succeeds and the other fail. In this chapter the ability to communicate properly provided an advantage for Oppenheimer and lack of communication skills was Langan downfall.

Chapter four also discussed economical backgrounds as the difference in the success and failure of Langan and Oppenheimer. Gladwell discuss how children from wealthy, middle class families are taught not to be afraid to ask questions, have increase parental involvement, and they get social/communication skills from extra curricular activities and family discussions. They develop the sense of “entitlement”. Children from poor families may not have the same experiences.

Gladwell describes "practical intelligence" as the ability to get what you want by knowing how, who, and when to communicate effectively. SIUE students can use academic advising sessions, the career development center, organizations, and direct communication with their professors to improve "practical intelligence".
SIUE students can also improve “practical intelligence” through work experience and volunteerism.

I use to think my mom was over bearing and pushy. She would ask so many questions, always at my school, always at my basketball games, and always telling me about some organization where I could volunteer. She would always tell me everything you need to know is not in a text book. I guess that is what Gladwell is stressing. Even though Langan and Oppenheimer were equally as smart the advantage had nothing to do with intellect but what Oppenheimer experienced outside of a classroom.

Morris Pearson, Jr. said...

I believe that practical Intelligence is something that is learned over time through either experience or watching others. Family and social/economic status does play a major role in ones practical intelligence. Depending on how you view the world will be a major impact on whether your willing to accept or reject information given to you. If you believe that the world owes you something or that you are envious of others, you will not be able to build on your practical intelligence, because you have already rejected the world.

Building your practical intelligence comes from accepting many different views on a subject, and understanding that your view may not be the best option. Increasing practical Intelligence can only come through experience and learning from a variety of different people in terms of race, social status, and class. For a student on campus the best way would be to join as many clubs and organizations as they can, so that you can build new relationships that could potentially help you in the future.

Paris Owens said...

On average it seems that people that come from upper and middle class environments become more successful. And doesn’t that make sense? These people could have more experience with culture, conducting themselves in a professional manner, and have an opportunity for a better education. However, I find it troubling to instill a sense of entitlement in children. This may impede the growth of practical intelligence. A sense of reality is important. Of course there are instances where self-motivated people built themselves from nothing. I feel that those people used their situations for determination in achieving success.

Joe Hines said...

Someone may have already touched on this - i didn't read everyone's post word for word but I definitely don't think greek life is a practical way of gaining practical intelligence. Greek life is a very huge commitment and one that shouldn't be made on a whim simply to gain practical intel. (Also Im not really too sure how many learning opportunities would be gained for "real world" situations i.e. business meeting, formal dinner, etc.

( Now obviously business meetings and formal dinners will not be the real world for everyone, because some people just won't encounter those situations on a normal occurrence.)

The thought that popped into my head when thinking about practical intelligence and where/ how to gain it was: wealthier kids tend to have more exposure to doctors, lawyers, specific events, etc. and thus more time, interaction, and communication with these people and within these atmospheres, giving them the maximum opportunity to become "use to it"/ comfortable."

After a person has lived in a house for 10 years they don't still have the same excitement for it as when they first moved in because they become "used to it." I believe its the idea of "practice makes perfect," the more time spent the better you become.

So I think for students at SIUE ( people in general) to gain the practical intelligence they need to "practice it" meaning actually be in many different situations with different people in different environments etc. It sounds like a really general and obvious statement but now that I'm thinking about it those who are kind of socially awkward or practically unintelligent tend to be those who are/ have been isolated from other people or just don't have much interaction with others.

Certain groups and organizations can help like student gov., Kimmel Leadership, etc. but I think greek life is a little too far. Interaction is the key.

Roanda Maldonado said...

I disagree with Samantha Martin on the notion of parents telling their children they can be whatever they want to be and that playing a part in their future success or practical intelligence. I think that parenting plays a big role on a child in every aspect and also being realistic with your children as a parent can allow the child to have a higher degree of practical intelligence because it gives them a sense of real life. Being a parent and telling your child that is 5'3 that wants to play in the NBA they can do it is an unsold dream for the kid and its misleading.

Vanessa Jones said...

I agreed with Malcolm in this chapter, because success is not all about where you come from but whom you come from and that indeed plays a major role. What that means is that the city you or class you come from does not have a major part in your success either. I truly feel and what I took from the chapter is purely the support system that you have behind you. The family and circle of people you keep around you plays a bigger part then the class you come from.
When he told the story of Chris Langan and his college experience with no support. He lost his scholarship because of whom he came from which was his mother, and her lack urgency to help and support her child. Regardless of the class he came from he was still goin to press ahead to becoming successful, but the lack of support left him smart and weak.

Taleah J said...

I think student at SIUE can learn practical intelligence by socializing with peers from classes or peer that they have met in college. Students can join different activities on campus, soroity/fraternity, etc. The kimmel leadership office has lots of organizations that student can join to learn practical intelligence, one might be the student leadership development. Also SIUE students can socialize in the community as well.

I agree with vanessa on the college student, Chris Langan, in the book whose mother was not very supportive of him getting an education, it was a weakness but that made him stronger and more determined to succeed. Sometimes life just isn't fair, but its up to you to overcome obstacles in your life if you want to be a productive individual in this society. Excuses have to stop and you might have to work harder than otherss to succeed but in the long run it's worth the sweat and tears.

Jamie said...

I agree with the first few posters in that, parents have a lot of play in how their children decide to run their lives as they get older. Parents who encourage their children and expect a lot from them help lead them to beleve that they can do whatever they want. It's all a matter of how hard the kids work to fulfill their goals and having someone there to support your decisions helps a lot when you want to be successful.

Jamie Mueller