Saturday, August 11, 2012

Practical Intelligence - a family connection?

As I've been reading on in Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers, I've come to the chapter where Gladwell discusses the importance of practical intelligence.  He defines this as "knowing what to say to whom, knowing when to say it, and knowing how to say it for maximum effect ... it's knowledge that helps you read situations correctly and get what you want ... general intelligence and practical intelligence are "orthogonal":  the presence of one doesn't imply the presence of the other."

Gladwell goes on to discuss the origins of practical intelligence.  It differs from analytical intelligence because that is partly genetic, whereas practical intelligence is a set of skills that can be learned.  Gladwell's premise is that the skills and attitudes that form practical intelligence comes from our families.  He discusses Lareau's studies of parenting philosophies which seem to be linked to wealthy and poor families.  He describes how the wealthier parents were heavily involved in scheduling activities into their children's free time, whereas this was absent from the lives of poorer children.  He noticed that wealthy and middle class parents talked more with their children and reasoned with them, rather than simply issuing commands.  These parents expected their children to talk back, to negotiate and question adults in positions of authority.  In turn, if their children were not doing well in school, the wealthier parents went to school, intervened on their behalf and challenged their teachers. Poorer parents were unlikely to do this - they were intimidated by authority and preferred to stay in the background.

 Lareau describes the difference in parenting in the following way:  middle class parents were"concerted cultivators" who fostered their children's talents, whereas poorer parents believed in "natural growth" which allowed the children to develop on their own.  Concerted cultivation has a number of advantages - more experience, teamwork, more structured settings, more interaction with adults.  Children who experience this learn entitlement:  they learn that they have the right to pursue their individual preferences, to share their opinions and to ask for attention.

Gladwell goes on to investigate how, following on from family background, certain qualities make work satisfying and meaningful and therefore encourage success.  These qualities are autonomy, complexity and the connection between effort and reward.  He writes that children who grow up in homes where the parents are engaged in such fulfilling and meaningful work come to believe that "if you work hard enough and assert yourself, and use your mind and imagination, you can shape the world to your desires."

In Outliers Gladwell argues that "success is not a random act.  It arises out of a predictable and powerful set of circumstances and opportunities."  Clearly he believes that the family you are born into is one of the biggest factors in determining this success.

Photo Credit:  Fatherhood, by Robert Scoble - by Thomas Hawk,  2007  AttributionNoncommercial

No comments:

Post a Comment