Intelligence, creativity and success : Practical insights from research

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In my assignment with the National Centre for Assessment in Higher Education (Govt. of Saudi Arabia), I was working on a project to propose a new design for a creativity test. While working on this project, I read 100s of research articles and some books by creativity experts to understand the latest development in the field and propose something which is likely to have higher predictive validity for success in work and life. This article aims to present a summary of my work for general public.

The central question for me was “How one’s intelligence and creativity are related to one’s success in life and in workplace”. To understand this I searched for articles in top rated journals that investigated the link between IQ (intelligence quotient) or CQ (creativity Quotient) or CI (Creativity Index) with outcome indicators in professional and personal life (like ratio of experience to salary, economic status, social status, academic authority or reputation, self-reported happiness, satisfaction with family and relationships etc.). Here is what I found:

Intelligence and success

There were article showing a correlation ranging from -.20 to .55 between IQ score and various outcome variables. The led to immense confusion, so I dwelled deeper to find more details about sample characteristics and research methods used in those articles in search of some clues to explain this much variation in the results. I spent few months reading and thinking, and notice the following 2 patterns in those studies:

I. All the studies displaying moderate to high correlation between IQ and Success were conducted on a wide-range sample comprising of people whose IQ was ranging from 85 to 125. Learning from this – in general population higher IQ leads to higher success.

II. All the studies displaying weak, zero or negative correlations between IQ and Success indicators were having participants from high IQ groups with IQ scores rating from 110 to 135. Learning from this – in high IQ groups, higher IQ score does not lead to higher success, sometimes it leads to lower level of success.

Creativity and Succeess

Unfortunately, there was no such pattern in studies on creativity and success. The correlation between creativity score and success indicators was raging from 0.10 to 0.45 in different studies with no obvious sign of any third variable influencing this relationship. Creativity seemed largely unrelated to success. And this ‘research based conclusion’ was going against what I was seeing in real life. Most successful people I met or read about were also highly creative. There was missing link and that link was not IQ as high IQ and High creativity participants have roughly the same correlation with success indicators as low IQ and high creativity participants.

During this period, I read a book on probability theory and started thinking about role of chance in success. This book gave me the spur to look at the studies from a different perspective and find a personality variable ‘The tendency and willingness to produce more and try more options without too much evaluation’. In personality trait theory this trait is referred at ‘industriousness’ and ‘experimenting’. And by applying this, the picture became clear:

So the conclusion is:

a person with low level of creativity but high tendency to do more has better chance of success than a person with high level of creativity but low tendency to do more

I would be very much interested in listening to your experience on this topic. How do you think creativity, intelligence and success are related to each other?

Vijai Pandey is Head of Assessments in The Psychometric World. He has worked in India, Europe and in the Middle East in research and advisory capacity in the area of talent measurement and development. Views expressed here are his personal.

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