Why You Might Never Succeed Even with High IQ

Have you ever wondered why your boss, who likely has a lower IQ than you, occupies a higher position than you, makes more than you, maybe even climbed the corporate ladder faster than you? So you’re smart. Why won’t you succeed even with high IQ? The fact is that generations of management and leadership have proved otherwise.


Remember when we were in grade school? I don’t know about you, but where I grew up, schools which focused on academics were always highly regarded. In fact, even today, the ranking of our public school system is based on how well kids do on academic subjects like math and language arts (English).



My husband went to an academic high school, in which he had to write an entrance exam, even to be placed in the lottery for a chance to be selected as a student. 99% of the kids in his class went to post-secondary. Most of them became professionals, primarily medicine or law. But while they excelled academically, many of them were, to be honest, not the most social individuals. It might be unfair for me to say, but I question even how compassionate they were being focused so much on academics? I inquire on their ability to read people and to empathize with everyone around them.


Why do We Even still Care about IQ?

Certainly, the subject of whether or not IQ is a fair an accurate measure of intelligence has been debated for many years. Admittedly, I knew little about the subject. So I looked up a quick definition of what IQ really means. According to Wikipedia, “IQ is an approximate result on the mastery of a few particular skills, mostly centered around vocabulary and reading comprehension.” See, this first sentence tells me that the definition of IQ is inherently flawed. It’s flawed because, in order to do well on the test, it requires you, first of all, to have a good handle on English. You need to know English in order to even read and comprehend the questions on the IQ test. So if your first language was English, and your family spoke eloquently at home you clearly had an advantage when taking the test. Said another way, if you descended from an immigrant family whose first language was not English, you might not do as well on the test, yet you could still be way smarter than the English speaker.



Everybody knows that math skills for people who grew up overseas generally far exceed those who grew up in North America. Yet the way the test is structured they would only ace the math portions of the test, and crash and burn on the English portions simply because they didn’t have a good handle on the language.

The definition continues to say, “The IQ test consists of a number of tasks measuring various measures of intelligence including short-term memory, analytical thinking, mathematical ability and spatial recognition. Like all IQ tests, it does not attempt to measure the amount of information you have learned but rather your capacity to learn.” This I find flawed as well. Clearly, the IQ test is structured to measure only three types of mental learning capabilities. But there are much more than that. I was talking to Perry about this the other night, and he again mentioned that there are actually eight different types of intelligence that one Howard Gardner proposed in his 1983 book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. On top of that, there is also the olfactory and gastronomical intelligence, which refer to the keen ability to identify the ingredients in an entrée just by tasting it.



As an ITsolopreneur, or aspiring to be one, you’ll likely not need to exercise your olfactory or gastronomical senses to get ahead in the corporate world. You might not even need to know all that much about math (…although I literally had to Google how to do algebra one day when trying to derive a complex revenue formula calculation in Oracle Projects. Who knew that algebra actually had a practical application?) What you will need, however, is EQ. What I see in today’s corporate environment, is a clear separation between the “have’s” and “have nots” of EQ.


Emotional Intelligence – The Neglected Secret to Getting Ahead

In 1995, Daniel Goleman wrote a book called Emotional Intelligence. In it, he illustrated the definitions, applications, and benefits of mastering emotional intelligence in your life and career. Put simply, emotional intelligence is the ability to understand and control our own emotions and the emotions of other people. Self-control is a huge part of this, as is delayed gratification. This was exemplified by the all famous Stanford Marshmallow test in 1960.



As illustrated in the video clip above, the Marshmallow test, was an experiment where they tested the delayed gratification of a bunch of preschoolers, by cruelly putting a marshmallow in front of them. The game was that they could eat one now. But if they waited until the researcher returned, they would get two marshmallows. The kids were then observed for their strategies on how they would preserve their marshmallow. As expected, most of the kids ate their one marshmallow. A few managed to hide the marshmallow until the researcher returned. As long as it was out of sight, then preserving it wasn’t an issue. One little boy even managed to take a nap until the researcher returned. The study followed the children until they grew up. What they discovered is that the kids who managed to preserve their marshmallow generally had more success than the kids who ate theirs. So delayed gratification, a member of the Emotional Intelligence family, is a good indication of future success in life in general.



Here’s the rub. Measuring ‘book smart’ intelligence and using it to predict future success is an outdated strategy, even when skills like math and spatial arrangements are required for the work. Back in the day, when our parents were going to school, they were encouraged to be technicians, highly specialized technicians. They were paid handsomely for their technical skill. But in today’s world, would you agree that it is less about what you know and how much you know?


Last night, I was on Fiverr and Upwork, shopping for a potential web developer. I discovered that upon posting a project, I received 15 different bids in a span of 20 minutes. The web developers featured on Upwork charge between 20 – 35 / hr. I have no reason to believe that they are any less technically proficient, than their North American equivalent. And yet, they are willing to perform the same work for less than half of North American price. It just reinforces that the money is no longer in what you know, it’s how you apply what you know. It’s how you build a business and surround yourself with the people who have the technical skills. Today the money is in how well you can solve people’s problems, and how many people you for whom you can solve those problems. To figure out someone’s problems, and to lead people, you need to have empathy. To ride the peaks and valleys of entrepreneurship, you need to have the tenacity, the self-control, the delayed gratification, all of which are emotional intelligence.


Are you Team IQ or Team EQ?

As I illustrated above, I’m obviously a proponent of EQ. But that doesn’t mean there’s no room for IQ in the picture. My podcast partner, Perry of TransformYourKid.com, recommended a book called How Children Succeed (Paul Tough) my position has changed a little.


In preparing for this post, I actually took a free IQ test online, since I’d never once taken one before. I got 134, which is slightly above average. Now if you ever spent any time with me, you definitely know I’ve never professed to be the sharpest knife in the drawer. In fact, I’m far from it. So I was rather pleased to have scored slightly above average. As I mentioned, I found that in order to answer the questions well, you needed to have a good handle of English (at least in the one that I took.) I also discovered that you also needed a lot of patience and mental tenacity. At some points in the test, I literally became mentally tired, and just selected C, in the interest of completing the test. It required you to work stuff out in your mind, but it might have made a difference how you took the test too. It was a “written” test, albeit electronic. I was presented with various numeric and spatial patterns to predict. Here’s the thing. If I was an audio learner or a kinetic learner, I would have been screwed.



The test didn’t account for different learning methodologies. Often people aren’t always just visual learners. More realistically, we are a combination of all three to some degree. I don’t think it is a fair test. And it only measures cognitive ability to work out problems. But it has nothing having to do with working out real life problems in society. It occurs to me that the test measures how essentially how great a computer would you be but not necessarily how much of an award-winning human being or leader you would be. Being a great leader doesn’t require you to be able to put numbers in a certain sequence, or unscramble word puzzles. It does require you to be mentally tenacious, mentally tough even?


In working to develop IQ, I can see how you could develop patience and tenacity to solve a problem. I can see how the importance of identifying patterns could be applicable to life. So for children, if they scored low on an IQ test, they could still have a chance to develop their mathematic, spatial arrangement and language skills, so that later on they can indirectly apply these skills to solve real-world problems. How would an adult do this? Of all the personal development on which you can spend your time, would you choose to better your math skills? Or would you sooner develop your people skills?



After all developing your IQ won’t help you in developing relationships with people. It won’t help you in inspiring people to do stuff they wouldn’t otherwise do… which is what leadership is. Based on the premise that in order to build something great, you need to assemble a team to work toward that mission. Most importantly, IQ won’t help you dream, and create a vision… which is what ultimately fulfills us.


How would you Strengthen your EQ?

To reiterate, EQ includes the development of soft skills, the recognition of empathy in others. Having compassion and personal skills are key pieces of having emotional intelligence. Fortunately, I believe that EQ is an innate trait that can be developed like any other skill. Humans have inherited the capacity for EQ just like our bodies have the capacity to heal. I believe this wholeheartedly because humans were meant to thrive in groups, in communities, in societies. We were not meant to thrive in isolation. We know how to do it. Just often it’s ignored. The good news is that emotional intelligence can be developed.


To quote Ashley Zahabian on why we should care about Emotional Intelligence:


Every business is in the business of building people. If you cannot build people, you can’t do anything. Building people requires delayed gratification…It requires regulating emotion and controlling behavior because it is not easy to build somebody who is a little bit under you because it takes patience, it takes self-management, it takes leadership.”


In next week’s post, we’ll get into how we can develop our EQ in our day to day life. Catch you then!

Also published on Medium.


  • Mark Walker

    Reply Reply February 23, 2017

    Great post Cat… I couldn’t agree more. I will defiantly read the book about helping my children succeed. 🙂 Hope all is well in the Lam/Wong world.

    • Cat Lam

      Reply Reply February 23, 2017

      Thanks, Mark! I actually thought of you and B when I was writing this post. I remember what you told us that while they might not be the best behaved, they do know how to talk to people. I was impressed how they can just walk into the playground and start making friends. Lawrence and I were so inspired by that! Little do you know but you and B are instrumental in shaping our parenting style. Cheers, brother!

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