When It Comes to the Workplace, Should We Forget IQ?


Traditionally IQ, Intelligence Quotient, was viewed as the measure for assessing an individual’s capacity to be successful in life. It was assumed that IQ was the predictor of being successful in the work world. Yet this belief kept running up against the reality that many people with high IQ’s struggle in the workplace.

Deeper exploration of IQ indicated that it was primarily a measure of acquired facts and skills taught in schools and universities. So, as a predictor it was more effective in identifying those individuals who would perform well in an academic setting. However, academic settings are quite different from the work world: academic environments are well controlled; the workplace is not well controlled.

The workplace is a multi-disciplined, multi-dimensional environment requiring the ability to respond to ever changing demands. Success depends upon the flexibility to respond in practical ways to what occurs, whether anticipated or not.

This is why our Cleaver system focuses not on IQ but instead on Mental Agility. Decades ago, John Cleaver identified the importance of the fluidity with which one can apply her/his forms of intelligence to changing situations and conditions. He defined Mental Agility as ‘The range and flexibility of one’s ability to think, strategize, plan, problem solve and create new ideas necessary to effectively perform the critical tasks and responsibilities of a job position.’

Notice it is not the capacity; it is the ability to apply one’s mental capacities to changing job situations. Success requires the appropriate talents, the requisite skills to utilize the talents, and the motivation to apply them. Among these dimensions are the capacity to think under pressure, the ability to communicate thoughts and the need to translate ideas into action. We continue to explore how the many dimensions of mental capability surface in the workplace and how they map to different job tasks.

It is not IQ, it is Mental Agility that counts in the workplace. The ability to flexibly and fluidly apply one’s mental capacities to varying situations and circumstances in practical ways to meet the needs of the organization and the individual is critical. It is this fluidity that managers and executives seek in their fellow employees.

Photo by Ricardo Justus