Intelligence is the dynamic interplay of engagement and abilities in pursuit of personal goals” so quips Scott Barry Kaufman as he ends his tour-de-force round of intelligence research in his book  ‘’Ungifted: intelligence redefined” and finally unveils his definition of ‘personal intelligence’; and though I love the (re)definition and will elaborate how it nicely fits with the conceptual models I have been developing, I must say that reading the book itself is enough to radically change one’s views about intelligence and you will, one way or the other, come away with a redefined view of intelligence if you took time to start reading the book (if you got started you will be hooked to the end).

Scott begins his book with the discussion of the construct of IQ and how that single score is much abused (see my parallel views on the same here and here) and wields enormous power leading to labelling of children with labels like ‘learning disabled’ or ‘gifted’ – both type of classifications having their challenges as well as utilities (see my views on labelling here). While a label like ‘gifted’ intuitively seems good and beneficial, research of Dweck, as highlighted by Scott, hints that this may lead to ‘fixed’ or entity mindset where people may think that intelligence is not malleable   - on the other hand other labels like ‘high achievers’ may focus too much on (past) achievement (possibly on a test) and less on (future) possibility and potential.

If the issue of labelling is tricky, how to conceptualise and integrate the success factors required for eminent achievement is trickier. Historically, IQ, as a proxy for cognitive part of intelligence, has been used to predict academic and life outcomes, and with some pretty good success. However, as studies of geniuses as well as experts has shown eminence is comprised of equal parts affective, cognitive and conative(volitional) factors.  That is what Scott concludes – I add to the mix behavioural factors- Scott doesn’t ignore behavioural factors (as a matter of fact engagement is all about behavioural factors), but as we will see conflates them with motivational/ personality factors.

So what are these additional factors: We get a detailed, up-to-date review on the science of passion, mindset and self-regulation. These per Scott are the major engagement factors.  Passion includes latest conceptualisations like harmonious and obstinate passions; Mindset is not just restricted to growth and fixed mindset of Dweck, but includes concepts like stereotype threat and you leatr n that self-regulation can be increased by pretend play activities.

On the abilities front, I find ‘deliberate practise ‘, as an ability strange, because I conceive it as a willingness to, and actual process of, engagement. Notwithstanding whether it is engagement or ability (as Scott says engagement and ability interact mutually and dynamically, so focussing on this aspect is needless hair splitting), the importance of deliberate practise cannot be overemphasised.  But just like Scott is sceptical of the IQ cut-off scores or creativity thresholds as either a necessary or sufficient condition for eminence; so too is he sceptical of the 10,000 hrs rule of expert performance. I think the scepticism is mis-founded: juts like labelling for efforts may not be counterproductive but induce a growth mindset, so too projecting a 10,000 hrs to expertise may trigger a growth mindset and also make people have realistic ambitions when it comes to making a real impact in any domain.

Anyway there are some things where we agree to disagree and the above is one of them, but on most count I could find myself agreeing vehemently- I read the same studies Scott reads and share the same mutual respect for similar theories and personalities in the field of psychology – that I t almost felt like I should have written that book (not that I would have been able to – not with the  expert elucidation that Scott has rendered it with) but al last it felt great that these ideas are being discussed and read widely.

 Before I move on, another minor disagreement we seem to have is over Gardner’s Multiple intelligences framework – Soctt believes that it’s not useful and even detracts by focussing on tailored ‘learning styles’ –and while I agree that tailoring of pedagogy as per a learner’s learning style/ MI seems suspicious and impractical , I also concur  that they do seem to have substantial validity and even map closely to CHC system.

To boot, I can conceptualise the following mapping between CHC broad factors and Gardner’s MIs (the first four mappings are pretty plain, the next four are slightly non-intuitive) :

  1. Gv (visual processing)- spatial intelligence
  2. Ga (auditory processing)- musical intelligence
  3. Grw( reading +writing)  - Linguistic intelligence
  4. Gq (Quantitative knowledge)  - logical –mathematical intelligence
  5. Gs  (Processing speed) – Bodily –kinaesthetic intelligence
  6. Gsm (Short term memory)-   intra-personal intelligence
  7. Gf (fluid reasoning)- Naturalistic intelligence
  8. Glr (long term storage and retrival)- Inter-personal intelligence

The last 4 mappings may seem non-intuitive , but are based on an analogy with my 4x4 emotional / motivational matrix  (basically its behavioural- cognitive counterpart  which I’ll soon unveil in a new post). To clarify, I present what I think is the cognitive structure of intelligence (apologies for giving only the abbreviations of narrow factors):


But , as Scott and I both agree, cognitive part of intelligence is not the whole story. I like to conceptualise intelligence as consisting of cognitive factors (creativity + cognitive strategies) , affective/ ability factors ( talent + IQ/ ‘g’), engagement or behavioural factors ( deliberate practise + grit) and motivational or  personality factors ( self-regulation + mindset/ passion).

Scott has wrote in detail about all of these and his book is a must read; drawing inspiration from his work, I would like to present a  4x4 matrix of eminence or expert performance:


It will probably take me a few more posts to distil ideas form Scott’s book and I hope to do a few more posts on intelligence and creativity inspired by him in the near future. Do keep a watch.

To summarize, if you would like to take a tour of latest findings in intelligence  research and at the same time do not just want an overview of the filed, but want to know what the truth is- please read this book- it’s a tall order to say that a book represents ’the’ truth about any subject, but this is as close you will get to the truth about intelligence and human eminence.   

My recommendation: buy it, read it, absorb it and apply it- for the benefit of yourself and for your children. We owe it to Scott that children are able to pull themselves out of the resource rooms! 

About the Author

Sandeep Gautam

Sandeep Gautam is a software developer and science writer at The Mouse Trap.

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