I recently posted an infographic that provided a view of "personality traits" versus "intelligence levels" as indicators of success.  I decided to let it stand on its own because I believe it does have some value.

However, the infographic also contains some seriously fuzzy thinking that might lead readers astray. Therefore, I'm using this post to pull the infographic apart and to see where it falls badly short.

The infographic has three sections: 1) a premise, 2) a list and 3) a conclusion, so for clarity's sake I'll address each of these elements separately.

Intelligence Versus Personality

The setup for the infographic states that some "personality factors" are more important than "intelligent level. " But what does this mean, exactly?

Does "intelligent levels" mean IQ (Intelligence Quotient) or does it mean level of intellectual skill gained over time?

This is an important distinction.  IQ measures potential not performance. Relevant intellectual skill, by contrast, is crucial to many jobs.

For example, an employee with an IQ of 160 who's skilled in literary criticism is less likely to be useful than an employee with an IQ of 120 who's mastered object-oriented programming.

This is true even if both employees are autistic or even if the employee with the higher IQ is charismatic and the employee with the lower IQ is a dullard. Skills matter.

The premise then quotes a psychologist's list of the "personality factors" more valuable than "intelligence levels."  While make sense, the fifth "extraversion" is absurd.

As I've pointed out previously, extraverts are at a disadvantage in a business world where most of the interaction takes place online.

The only place where extraversion is an advantage are in open offices, which are designed to promote social interaction while reducing actual productivity.

The premise then quotes a study showing that 85% financial success is generated from "people skills" while 15% is from "technical knowledge."  What does that mean, exactly?

A person with zero technical knowledge has little hope of becoming successful, while many entrepreneurs--Bill Gates comes to mind--are definitely not "people-people."

The premise ends with a summary: "Intelligence, it seems, can only take you so far. Hard work and social skill development are the keys to reaching the top."
This sudden appearance of "hard work" is odd, because it's the first indication that effort might be required.  I'll have more to say about this later.

The 8 Personality Traits

I agree that all eight of these traits are important.  However, the trait of "Passion" is a bit misleading and even a bet dangerous in practice.

A common business mistake is to wrongly believe that passion is contagious: that expressing your passion for your job, company or product will make other people passionate about it, too.

In fact, your personal enthusiasm is irrelevant to other people, except insofar as the lack of it might indicate incompetence.

In fact, gushing about your passion can come off glad-handing and even make you seem untrustworthy, especially if it's not backed by competence and intellectual skill.

The overall problem here, though, is that these "traits" continually blur the concept of potential versus actualization.  

For example, any parent of multiple children knows that some children are better than others at keeping their temper (i.e. self-regulation.")   Nevertheless, unless a child is seriously impaired, any child can learn to stop throwing tantrums.

Another problem is the catch-all "social skills."  By definition, skills aren't traits; they're something that's learned.  Some people find social interaction easy; others find it more difficult.  Such skills build on potential but they aren't the same thing as potential.

The final statement of this this section that the possession of social skills "ultimately means success," is completely absurd. There are plenty of failures who have great social skills.  (The TV show Better Call Saul, for instance, is a excellent character study of such a person.) 

For some jobs, indeed many jobs, developing requisite intellectual skills are as important or more important than social skills.  Empty suits can only rise so far; after a while people want to see some brains behind the fancy talk.

The Conclusion

The final segment of the infographic brings it's limitations to the forefront by stating that "intelligence" can't be taught but "personality traits" can be developed and enhanced.  

But that's ridiculous.  Of course, intelligence can be taught; that why we attend school, read books, and so forth.  What can't be altered is IQ but that's potential, not actualization.

What can't be taught is "personality traits" which is EQ, which measures potential rather than actualization.  Just as some people have a high IQ, some people have a higher EQ and therefore find people skills easier.

What's important isn't so much your IQ or your EQ, but what you decide to do with whatever potential you've got.  Thomas Edison put it perfectly when he said: "Success is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration."

Published on: Feb 16, 2016
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