by Dr Shen Li Lee


In Brain Rules for Baby, John Medina quoted The Journal of Happiness Studies which stated that “People who make more than $5 million a year are not appreciably happier than those who make $100,000 a year”. “Money only increases happiness only when it lifts people out of poverty to about the mid-five figures. Past $50,000 per year in income, wealth and happiness part ways.”

According to Outliers, it appears that the relationship between IQ and real world success is similar. “Once someone has reached an IQ of somewhere around 120, having additional IQ points doesn’t seem to translate into any measurable real-world advantage.” Once an individual is “smart enough”, that individual is just as likely to win a Nobel Prize as someone with an IQ of 180. Malcolm Gladwell tells us about Chris Langan, a man with an IQ of 195. With such a high IQ, you would think that Chris Langan would be a household name, but how many of us have ever heard of Chris Langan? Until I read the Outliers, I didn’t even know he existed. In comparison, Einstein’s IQ was only 150, yet most people have heard of Einstein.

A great quote from the Outliers highlights this point:

“Knowledge of a boy’s IQ is of little help if you are faced with a formful of clever boys.”

So beyond an IQ of 120, what differentiates individuals from being successful? To illustrate the difference, Malcolm Gladwell highlighted a couple of examples in Outliers. The first came in the form of a question from a divergence test:

Write down as many different uses that you can think of for the following objects:

  1. a brick
  2. a blanket

Here’s one answer from a student at a top British school:

(Brick). To use in smash-and-grab raids. To help hold a house together. To use in a game of Russian roulette if you want to keep fit at the same time (bricks at ten paces, turn and throw—no evasive action allowed). To hold the eiderdown on a bed tie a brick at each corner. As a breaker of empty Coca-Cola bottles.

(Blanket). To use on a bed. As a cover for illicit sex in the woods. As a tent. To make smoke signals with. As a sail for a boat, cart or sled. As a substitute for a towel. As a target for shooting practice for short-sighted people. As a thing to catch people jumping out of burning skyscrapers.

And this is the answer from a prodigy with one of the highest IQs in his school:

(Brick). Building things, throwing.

(Blanket). Keeping warm, smothering fire, tying to trees and sleeping in (as a hammock), improvised stretcher.

Clearly, the first answer shows a lot more creativity than the second. And if you were to place a bet on who would be more likely to win a Nobel Prize, I’m sure you would be betting on the person who wrote the first answer even though his IQ is lower. Just because an individual has a high IQ doesn’t mean he can come up with creative ideas.

The other differential highlighted by Gladwell is termed “practical intelligence”. He gives an excellent examples of practical intelligence displayed by Robert Oppenheimer who had a mind equally as sharp as Chris Langan but because of his practical intelligence, he was able to turn the most impossible of situations to his favour. Robert Oppenheimer knew “what to say to whom, when to say it, and how to say it for maximum effect”. These are two of the life skills that Ellen Galinsky talks about in her book Mind in the Making – perspective taking and communicating. These are life skills that must be taught. Given Chris Langan’s upbringing, it is understandable why he never had the opportunity to learn these skills.

How do you teach these skills to your child? Ellen Galinsky offers lots of practical advice in her book “Mind in the Making“.