Human intelligence and competitive advantage.

AuthorTran, Kwa


The concept of superior intelligence is an interesting one. It is a divine bestowment that can be attributed to success in the genetic lottery incubated in the right environment. Carl Von Clausewitz spoke highly of superior intelligence in his unfinished treatise on military strategy, "On War." In observing military genius Napoleon Bonaparte, he noted that it is difficult to understand the actions of the genius; but being able to observe one is absolutely fascinating. We only recently developed theories on understanding human intelligence. We have been uncovering the universe quicker than our own minds.

This paper will argue that differences in intellectual profiles can be internalized to augment the problemsolving capabilities of the firm. First, theories on multiple and emotional intelligence are introduced. Second, contingency theory and the resource-based view are summarized in its relation to the argument. It will be argued that teams that operate within the firm require intelligent problem-solving capabilities to resolve issues that arise from environmental changes. Finally, this paper will argue that problem solving capabilities are enhanced through increased intellectual diversification and emotional intelligence. This research is original in its interdisciplinary value and its deductive approach to modeling intellectual capacities in organizational development theory.


From an evolutionary perspective, "the core of intelligence is the ability to anticipate and predict variation and novelty and to devise strategies to cope with this novelty" [Geary 2009, 22]. In experimental psychology's infancy, Charles Spearman paved the way for psychometric studies when he administered tasks to 123 local children and adults and found correlations to support a "General Intelligence" labeled as g [Spearman 1904]. The measurable factor of intelligence g is the basis for IQ and psychometric testing. The empirical support for g is plentiful. In neurological studies, IQ has shown correlations to overall brain volume, brain neural markers, and the coherence of white matter fibers [Lee 2009, 60]. In 1988, Michael Anderson collected evidence to support that lifetime intelligence can be ascertained even among infants. Arguing against psychometrics and this deterministic construct, Gardner wrote that although IQ is an indication of one's ability to grasp academic concepts, it does not correlate well with success in life [Gardner 1983]. Researchers are beginning to argue that intelligence is an interaction between certain potentials such as g, and opportunities as characterized by an individual's environment and cultural setting. This certainly further complicates the definition of intelligence.

This study recognizes that there exists a general intelligence g as well as the existence of other specialized intelligences. Assuming a normal distribution for general intelligence among people, most people will fall within a similar IQ range. This does not mean they have similar abilities in acquiring and applying knowledge. Combining a dictionary and evolutionary definition, intelligence is defined as the ability to acquire knowledge and apply this knowledge to anticipate and adapt to changing environmental pressures. This definition allows for differences in learning and reasoning abilities despite an identical psychometric IQ score.


The theory of multiple intelligences was not completely novel but appealed to many people when it was introduced by Howard Gardner in 1983. Gardner criticized Piagetian IQ testing as being blindly empirical and fails to come to grips with higher levels of roles in society [Gardner 1983]. The idea that IQ does not fully explain higher level cognitive processes is supported by studies on top level executives [Cherniss & Goleman 2001; Goleman, et al 2002; Hughes & Terrell 2007]. Goleman concludes that IQ fails to explain differences in success among executives because they are already selected with certain IQ standards based on education and prior work experience [Goleman 1995].

To uncover new sets of human intelligences, Gardner developed a set of criteria based on: psychology, observations of prodigal beings, anthropology, cultural studies, and biological sciences [Gardner 1998/2004]. For a trait to be considered a new intelligence in Gardner's theory, the trait must consist of a unique cognitive process used for problem solving that is useful in one or more cultural settings. Summarized in Figure 1, Gardner originally proposed seven intelligences [Gardner 1983]. Gardner continues to consider other intelligences including: spiritual, sexual, attention, and pedagogical [Gardner 1983/2011]. Neurobiological studies continue to be shape Gardner's paradigm. Each of the intelligences Gardner identified can be biologically linked to a cognitive process. For example, spatial intelligence can be linked to the parietal and occipital lobes whereas linguistic intelligence is attributed to the temporal and frontal lobes [Noruzi 2010].

Multiple intelligences theory is supported by neurological developments in brain modularity, such as works by Jerry Fodor at MIT. Tooby and Cosmides support claims for brain modularity - "intelligence is a constellation of distinct capacities with separable mechanistic and evolutionary bases, each designed by natural selection in response to a particular adaptive problem faced recurrently in the history of the species" [Lee 2009]. Since data is processed in different parts of the brain depending on the nature of the specified information, the existence of other intelligences can exist. Brain modularity is further supported in brain studies where some of the subject's cognitive abilities are drastically affected whereas their general intelligence is unaffected (e.g. HM, KC and WM).

Many people have gone against traditional psychometric measures of general intelligence to support Gardner's notion of multiple intelligences. Steinberg argues that intelligence must be taken in context of the culture. According to his triarchic theory, "intelligence can be understood only in relation to three aspects in interaction: the internal world of the individual, the individual's experience, and the external world of the individual. [Sternberg 1999, 148]" This defines intelligence as a factor underlying internal processes, experiences, and the environment [Sternberg 1999]. Dan Pink hypothesized future demand for intellectual firm needs to be right-brain oriented; emphasizing a paradigm shift in brainlateralization [2005].

By definition, MI theory is adaptable to cultures and environments. It can also be adapted to cognitive processes that will be valuable to a specific industry. Critics of MI theory argue that many of these intelligences are mislabeled and should be classified as traits or skills [Gardner 1983/2011]. This argument can be emphasized when considering extending MI principles reductio ad absurdum to include such talents as face recognition, catching a ball, or whistling. Therefore, it should be kept in mind that MI theory is based on problem-solving abilities, prodigal capabilities, and modular cognitive processes - key elements of Gardner's research.


Emotional intelligence is a relatively new concept hypothesized from the field of "positive psychology," a study that leads to a sense of well-being rather than the study of treating illnesses [Bar-On 2010]. The concept of EI is a similar approximation to Gardner's MI theories of intrapersonal and interpersonal intelligences [Gardner 2002]. Interpersonal intelligence is described as the capacity and ability to distinguish between emotions and feelings. Intrapersonal personal intelligence is an extension of these abilities to others -"in particular, among their moods, temperaments, motivations, and intentions" [Gardner 1983, 239]. Gardner found unique characteristics in the neurological representations of intrapersonal and interpersonal intelligence.

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