Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A Child of Four

“A four-year-old child could understand that,” Groucho Marx once said. “Run out and find me a four-year-old child.” Groucho’s joke contains a truth we can use right now. Just look around at the mess of a capitalist system some of the "smartest" people have made. Their monumental mistakes remind me that now – more than ever – is the time for gut instinct. Anyone who reads this blog knows I’m wary of technical expertise. The people I know who are real experts don’t do jargon, back away from formulas and process, and sit out the brag sessions. This is because their expertise is fueled by something special – and it’s not the ability to read balance sheets (although they can usually do that too). The special quality I’m talking about is empathy. High intelligence has always struck me as a great gift, but I believe the real treasure you want for your kids is an empathetic connection with the world around you and the people who live in it.

Now you can see why I was delighted that academics at the University of Toronto have found that IQ tests would be hugely improved if they considered a wider range of human skills like the ability to make decisions and prioritize sensibly. The kicker is that researcher, Keith Stanovich, describes these skills as rational and labels everything leftover as irrational. Hang on a moment though, don’t we know now that making decisions and setting priorities are the very things we have to do with high levels of emotion? Emotion doesn’t make us irrational, it makes us effective. You say irrational, I say raised antennae. I’ve seen the brightest people make silly mistakes because they didn’t think with their hearts and their bodies. It has been the same since the world began. That’s why we have rules of thumb, following our instincts, and playing to our gut feelings. The people who ran Detroit all those years without connecting with car buyers, the bankers who invested in sloppy ventures, and anyone who did anything that didn’t feel quite right at the time were probably high on IQ but low on empathy.

Counting to ten and listening to your feelings is one of the most useful business tools. As someone once said, “If it feels too good to be true, it probably is”.