We all need a RQ (Reflective Intelligence Quotient) – we already have embraced IQ and EQ or ???

Having more time (no commute into central London or being on a flight in Europe) to reflect, regroup and “take long baths”, I have read an interesting and thought-provoking book: “The Intelligence Trap”, by David Robson. It poses three key questions and provides excellent answers to each:

  1. Why do smart people act stupidly?
  2. What skills and dispositions are smart people missing that would explain their mistakes?
  3. How can we cultivate those positive qualities to protect us from errors?

Should we therefore introduce a Reflective Intelligence Quotient (RQ) dimension when assessing leaders and their suitability for existing and new positions? I often ask myself how well do leaders reflect and can they assess themselves accordingly? Knee-jerk reactions are not helpful. Agility, grit and resilience are relevant buzz words in these changing COVID-19 times but why do smart people (still) make silly mistakes?

The Intelligence Trap takes a thorough look at what the science tells us about intelligence, and most importantly, when and how intelligence can lead people astray. It takes chapter after thoroughly interesting chapter to unpack the stories and research about intelligence, then teaches the reader how to avoid the mistakes other intelligent people have made. Robson explains everything from why experts often overestimate their own judgement, to how groups can get caught up in folly.

The book distils over 100 years of scientific research about intelligence and explains it in a series of stories and practical examples. This approach makes it clear how the mistakes explained in the book occur in everyday life and you will see how common it is for smart people to show poor judgement. Throughout the book you can find examples that mirror your own mistakes, or situations you can easily imagine yourself in. Then, Robson explains how to avoid them.

Most importantly, the style and structure of this book offers very clear and practical advice to readers. Every reader knows what it’s like to look at someone’s silly behaviour and wonder, ‘what were they thinking?’ Each chapter helps to answer that question. After outlining the reasons why smart people make stupid mistakes in the first section, the second part provides “A toolkit for reasoning and decision-making”. This will be the most interesting section for many readers. Robson sets out the toolkit in a straightforward and practical way using fascinating stories, which illustrate his points.

Reflect on your own decision-making

One of the important points that Robson explains is how to reflect on your own decision-making. This made me think about the concept of self-reflection and finding the time to slow down before you speed up. I call it RQ (Reflective Intelligence Quotient).

Considering alternative courses of action with an open mind is one way to avoid mistakes. Many silly mistakes and catastrophic blunders emerge from overconfidence, failure to consider other options and lack of awareness of one’s own decision-making process. Taking a deeper look at these processes helps people to avoid making mistakes. There is, of course, a bit more to it, which Robson explains so well.

The Intelligence Trap is a much-needed inoculation to prevent decision-making that leads to blunders and in my view, should be required reading for any intelligent person in a leadership position or student of leadership, business or psychology.

In summary, one way to start reflecting over the content in this book is to read the Epilogue at the end. If you want to apply this research yourself, the first step is to acknowledge the problem. Intellectual humility can help us see through our bias blind spot.

At the end Robson also includes a “taxonomy” of definitions outlining the most common errors at the heart of the intelligence trap.

My three favourites are; Salomon’s paradox, epistemic curiosity and moral algebra. I will add these to my repertoire and seek additional input when I interview and assess executive leaders in the future.

Next time around, a pandemic could be even worse

The next pandemic could be even more deceptive than SARS or COVID-19 with its long incubation time, high levels of asymptomatic infections and large number of very sick patients. Reflection, thinking, structuring, organising and agreeing global action is needed to move us safely beyond where we are today. So, take stock, slow down, think, use your imagination and reflect more.

Our social contract will have to change, and one can start by doing a “mini personal lock-down” to ensure you stay sane and remember what is (really) important.

What is your RQ value? I’d be happy to learn more about your thoughts and personal experiences. Happy reading!

Thomas Schleimer, Managing Partner, The RSA Group

D:  +44 (0) 20 3872 8411

M: +44 (0) 7860 907 129

E: Thomas.Schleimer@theRSAgroup.com



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