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Interview with Dr. Simonton
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My view of intelligence is basically a Darwinian one. It's based on sort of the old Functionalist notion that goes way back to Francis Galton , that says that there are a certain set of cognitive capacities that enable an individual to adapt and thrive in any given environment they find themselves in, and those cognitive capacities include things like memory and retrival, and problem solving and so forth. There's a cluster of cognitive abilities that lead to successful adaptation to a wide range of environments.
Intelligence is a necessary but not sufficient basis for achieving eminence. I've done a number of studies, and other people have done studies, showing there is a positive correlation between intelligence and eminence. But there are so many other factors that operate that the amount of variance explained just by intelligence alone is relatively small, usually somewhere around 4 to 5 percent at most, and then everything else-the 95 percent or more-is due to other factors such as personality and other kinds of developmental experiences.
Intelligence is a much more narrow concept than creativity. Intelligence is purely a cognitive construct. Creativity on the other hand, I see as being much more complex, at least if you make a distinction-there are two kinds of creativity that we often talk about in creativity research. There's first of all "little c creativity' which is creativity in everyday life, solving everyday problems. And that kind of creativity is very closely related to intelligence because intelligence includes, as part of it, problem-solving abilities. So creativity overlaps with intelligence when you are talking about little c creativity. But when you are talking about "big C creativity," you're talking about being able to generate new ideas, generate some kind of product that's going to have some kind of impression on other people. I may be a poem, it may be a patent, it may be a short story, it may be a journal article or whatever. But it's something that is a concrete, discrete product that is original and serves some kind of adaptive function. And that kind of creativity, that big c creativity, involves a whole bunch of other characteristics besides intelligence. It involves motivation, it involves expertise in a particular domain, it involves certain kinds of abilities in regard to imagination, free association, remote association, and so forth. So it's a much broader construct, and much, in a sense, rarer in a population, than when we talk about something like little c creativity.
My interest in eminence goes back to when I was an elementary school kid. Actually it was kindergarten. My parents bought a World Book Encyclopedia , and one of the things that's distinctive about the World Book Encyclopedia is they have lots of pictures of people associated with all the articles. And one of the things that fascinated me was why was it that there were these certain people that had their pictures in the encyclopedia, but my dad didn't and my mom didn't. In fact, I didn't know anybody who had their picture in the encyclopedia. And so I started thinking about: What is it that these people had to do to get their picture in there? And I started becoming aware of the fact obviously that a lot of them are there for creativity. You have the Leonardo Da Vincis, and you have the Albert Einsteins, and then you have the leaders such as Napoleon or Abraham Lincoln or whatever. And so then that lead me to the question: Okay, what does it take to be a creator? What does it take to be a leader of sufficient distinction that you end up having your article, your biography in the encyclopedia? And when I eventually became a psychology major I started encountering various psychologists, such as Lewis M. Terman and Catherine Cox who tried to address that question. And one of the main answers that they came up with.goes back to Francis Galton. [It] had to do with intelligence. And in fact if you look back to Galton's Hereditary Genius , intelligence and eminence are almost synonymous. He actually says that if people have high enough intelligence they can't help but become famous in their field because that intelligence will allow them to have the capacity to produce things that will just blow everybody else away. So that's how I got interested in it!
There is a general tendency, as you learn more and more about something, to find out that your original ideas were too simplistic. When I started out I thought of intelligence as pretty much a single construct. I guess I could say I was a Spearman's g person; I thought there was something called "general intelligence" that could be applied to a wide range of situations and was really generic. And over time I've realized that it's finely differentiated. There's different kinds of intelligences. The kind of intelligence that you need for music is very different from the kind of intelligence that you need for leadership, for example. And also, I've realized that intelligence is a mixed blessing-that it doesn't always have a positive impact. I published and article in [ Psychological Review ] many years ago where I showed that you can be too intelligent to be successful in certain fields. And this is particularly true in leadership fields. I predicted that there would be a curvilinear relationship, and actually specified what the IQ differences would be, and then found support for it in the literature. You find this interesting thing, for example, for presidents of the United States , that even though I show that great presidents tend to be more intelligent than not-so-great presidents, it's much harder to get elected president if you are very intelligent. So we end up electing presidents who are not as intelligent. So there is kind of an interesting paradox there. So it turns out to be much more complicated than I originally thought. It's much more finely differentiated.
If I had to name the contributions that I have made to the understanding of intelligence and its relationship to eminence, I would say that it's.threefold. First of all, I've developed ways of measuring intelligence in historical persons-ways that are different than the ones that were originally introduced by Terman or Catherine Cox-based on factor analysis of personality ratings. Second of all, I examined how those measure s of intelligence relate to actually success of both creators and leaders-found what the size of the correlations are, and what are the limitations of those effects. And then finally, I've developed theoretical models to try to explain why sometimes you can be too intelligent to be successful in a particular area.
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