12 July 2005

Intelligence, Talent, Scholars, Performance, Singapore and the rest of it

The blogger known as Adinhaes has just expressed her views on the topic too. Another excuse for me to yak even more on the topic. Adinhaes writes:
    "Academic success is usually a good predictor of intelligence but not always. Its just that in our system, we take it as the only indicator which is a mistake. Being exam smart is not enough if you have zero interpersonal skills or find it difficult to think on your feet.
Actually, the Singapore government's insistence on using academic success as its key criterion only shows how backward the Singapore government is. The world's understanding of what really drives human performance has evolved a lot over the past two decades, but the Singapore government's understanding obviously has not.

There are several perspectives on the issue, so I'm not sure where's the best place to start. I'll just offer two for the readers of Commentary Singapore to mull over:


Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences developed in the 1980s. Essentially, Gardner says that the IQ concept is too narrow, for there are at least eight distinct kinds of human intelligences:

Linguistic intelligence involves sensitivity to spoken and written language, the ability to learn languages, and the capacity to use language to accomplish certain goals.

Logical-mathematical intelligence consists of the capacity to analyze problems logically, carry out mathematical operations, and investigate issues scientifically.

Musical intelligence involves skill in the performance, composition, and appreciation of musical patterns. It encompasses the capacity to recognize and compose musical pitches, tones, and rhythms.

Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence entails the potential of using one's whole body or parts of the body to solve problems. It is the ability to use mental abilities to coordinate bodily movements.

Spatial intelligence involves the potential to recognize and use the patterns of wide space and more confined areas.

Interpersonal intelligence is concerned with the capacity to understand the intentions, motivations and desires of other people. It allows people to work effectively with others.

Intrapersonal intelligence entails the capacity to understand oneself, to appreciate one's feelings, fears and motivations. In Howard Gardner's view it involves having an effective working model of ourselves, and to be able to use such information to regulate our lives.

Traditional methods of assessment in schools (that is, EXAMS) tend to favour those who possess high levels of linguistic and/or logical-mathematical intelligences. However, those who don't have high levels of such intelligences are not necessarily "stupid" - they may merely be highly intelligent in other ways.

Thus even if you do not do well in school, it doesn't mean that you're intrinsically lacking in the ability to do well in life. For example, you could have average or below average levels of linguistic or logical-mathematical intelligences; but a very high level of interpersonal intelligence that allows you to lead a team of fellow workers effectively.

Of course the fact that the PSC favours academic success means that it inherently favours linguistic or logical-mathematical intelligences, which means that it will probably:

(1) neglect those who are smart in other ways;

(2) favour scholars (who tend to be linguistically or logical-mathematically intelligent); AND

(3) favour scholars who are linguistically or logical-mathematically intelligent BUT are retarded as far as other kinds of intelligences are concerned (for example, interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligences).


There are plenty of books that spout advice about how to do well in your career. However, there aren't many authors who have assembled a team of psychologists and HR experts, and systematically, scientifically studied top performers in their work environment, and sought to identify the secrets of success - over 10 years.

Robert Kelley is such an author, and his discoveries are in this book. He devoted years of his life to studying star performers, and his definition of "star performers" are people who are most highly appraised in the workplace, not merely by their bosses, but their peers. In other words, the "star performers" that he has studied are the people whom everyone in their workplace agrees are "star performers".

After years of study, Kelley has identified nine key patterns in star performers. Surprise, surprise. None of the nine key patterns have anything to do with academic success, good CCA records, a high IQ or a 1st class honours from a fancy university. Which really means that the PSC has got it all wrong, wrong, wrong.

What are those nine key patterns? Read the book, if you're interested. Heck, I'll tell you a few of the nine patterns. They include initiative, the ability to build a network, the skill to work in a teamwork and the ability to understand work issues from a bigger, broader perspective. No, they do NOT include the ability to score S-Paper distinctions; memorise 10-year-series model answers or speak well during a PSC interview. So let me say it again - the PSC got it all wrong, wrong, wrong.


tscd said...

I think PSC does the best it can when looking for scholars. PSC probably looks for people with linguistic intelligence and logical intelligence as well as inter/intrapersonal intelligence.

These can be assessed using interviews, teacher references and exam grades...and CCA records. They want people who are motivated to work hard and work well under pressure, they want people who get good returns for their work, they want people who communicate well and are outspoken - both exams and interviews test that. CCA records will show if someone is committed enough to the CCA to excel in it. Teacher references can be a useful insight into a person's character.

Somebody once told me that a psychologist forms part of the PSC interview panel.

Anonymous said...

You heard of Spearman's general intelligence, g, as well right?

Apparently, the multiple intelligences of a person could be aggregated in some way to form the overall competency of an individual. And IQ, while an incomplete & inadequate indicator, is said to represent some semblance of g, at least at IQ ranges between 80-140. Any higher or lower (especially higher) and the correlation crumbles.

Corporate Manwhore.

adinahaes said...

It's an enormous pity that our govt tries its best to play a catch up game with technological advances but somehow fails to evolve its management of the most important areas.

Anonymous said...

How about an insight into PSC methods? Some of this information is hearsay, but much of it is also culled from personal testimonies. For the interview, they have 2 rooms. A and D. If you're in A, you can totally mess up and still get the scholarship. I've heard of one applicant who had almost no general knowledge about Singapore at all and was still awarded the scholarship. Sure you can be intelligent and all, but if you know next to nothing about the society you are going to serve, shouldn't that count against you? If you're in D, they basically rip any self-esteem you might have to shreds. Mmhmm, they really choose their talents with rigor.

That is not to say that PSC hasn't chosen stellar candidates. However, the majority of PSC scholars I've met would fare rather badly if their interpersonal skills were ever put to the test.

They definitely fail my dinner conversation test. Discussion at the dinner tables of a particular top American college tend to revolve around a comparison of how many A's one has and which classes to take (not based on how much you learn from class but which prof is the easiest grader). And they wonder why I eat so quickly. Come to think of it, not just PSC scholars. Heck, DSTA, A*Star, EDB... All guilty.

Elia Diodati said...

I never expected you to resort to appeal to higher authority as an argument. Very disappointing.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Were you talking about my post? Gee, and I was just going to go on to Gallup Strengthsfinder about the assessment and development of natural human talent; and Mary Elaine Jacobsen's writings on what it means to be gifted; and the management trainee programs in top international financial institutions such as Citibank and HSBC and how they assess & select their bright young people for special nurturing / grooming.

My overall point being that the current PSC methods of scholar selection are quite narrow and insular compared to the current thinking out there in the world about how to find/assess the best young people with the most potential.

If you consider that an appeal to higher authority, well fine, then it is an appeal to higher authority. Being legally trained, it comes quite naturally to me to appeal to higher authority. Appealing to higher authority is a perfectly sound argument to me, as long, of course, as you select the appropriate and relevant higher authorities who in any event explain their position & reasoning with depth, evidence and research.

Anonymous said...

How many degrees did Bill Gates, Richard Branson, Abraham Lincoln, etc.. successfully study for? If they tried to apply to work here in Singapore- they'd get rejected for being totally under qualified. Singapore's obsession with paper qualification is bloody myopic.
Cheers WylieWilde