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Monday, July 21, 2014

Beyond IQ: Scientific Tools for Training Problem Solving, Intuition, Emotional Intelligence, Creativity, and More

As you've seen in posts past, such as this, I am very interested in books that make psychological research more relatable on an every-man level, so I picked up Garth Sundem's Beyond IQ: Scientific Tools for Training Problem Solving, Intuition, Emotional Intelligence, Creativity, and More.

According to the author, it's not just about having smarts--it's about using them. This pop psychology book takes up the matter of the intelligent quotient (the infamous IQ)--how it is defined, how it is viewed, and how it is measured. Sundem bases his work on Robert J. Sternberg's definition of intelligence and provides his reader with exercises at the end of every chapter to master each chapter skill he discusses, arguing that it's not intelligence that gets you the goods, it's skills such as creativity, intuition, and emotional intelligence.

So... I make it very clear on this blog that I don't like to pan books, and my intention isn't to pan this one, but rather to examine what this book hits on the head and where it falls short of giving non-psychologist readers strong information that helps them. (I may not succeed. Let's see how this goes.) Intelligence is a matter that is widely debated amongst my set, particularly in the realm of the teacher training classroom. I discuss many theories behind the theory of intelligence whether I buy into them or not, and I like to encourage healthy debate as to what people believe intelligence is, how should be measured, and how that information should be used. I would also like to point out for the record that one major definition for intelligence is the accumulation and use of knowledge, so I was puzzled as to why the author's thesis was this very (frankly, pretty often accepted) definition. I was puzzled as to why it came across as though it was being promoted as "revolutionary."

There are things I appreciated about this book, such as Sundem's push to get information out to the world about aspects of intelligence that aren't extensively known, such as working memory and heuristics. I am also a big fan of Sternberg myself (call it an academic crush), so I did welcome a book oriented toward getting his research out there. Sternberg has done a great deal of work on intelligence, so the connections back to his work were nice to see.

However, beyond just the issue of the definition of intelligence, I also take issue with the exercises in the book. Specifically I have a problem this idea that you can do these exercises that are advertised as "skill-building" and then suddenly be better at life than someone who scores well on an IQ test (in one of the blurbs, Goodreads I believe, they advertise Mensa members as the ones you can beat). If you doubt my take on the advertising, check out the Goodreads and Amazon pages. What I take issue with is this idea that IQ doesn't mean anything when in fact a great deal of research has been done on the topic and the score can be useful in many capacities. Look, I think things like intuition and willpower and emotional intelligence (each of which is discussed in the book) are all important, but let's face the fact that they are different things that have their own massive bodies of literature behind them and in addition they all form who we are as humans. Not to mention that they all inform any intelligence score that we may get. Saying that things other than intelligence are more important rather than treating the concepts as apples and oranges (as in, not entirely comparable but both have a purpose) makes this book fall short of its goals.

Kindle version on left, hard copy on right. 

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