Telling Fairy Tales To Spare Our Feelings

From Quora How can I be as great as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, and Richard Branson?

Why can’t we have an honest debate about success and the role of IQ? Why do we need to lie to ourselves and then spread these lies to innocent victims, filling their heads with nonsense? Rhetorical question, I know. As the success of Malcom Gladwell shows, there is an inexhaustible market for fairly tales – not just for children -but adults, too. People want to be told what they want to believe, that with the alignment of certain environmental factors (ambition, practice, and some luck) anything is possible. And if you fail it’s never because of genes or other biological factors, but because the more successful person had some sort of unfair environmental advantage. Furthermore, being too smart can be a handicap…because Gladwell said so…empirical evidence be damned. Repeat for 120,000 words and you have a NYT best-seller.

As the Tedx talk below shows, there is no IQ ‘limit’ for success, and standardized tests, which are a proxy for IQ, are a predictor for success, especially for extremely high scores:

What is ‘good is not necessarily pleasurable or desirable. To conflate the two is called the Naturalistic Fallacy. It’s pleasurable to be told that IQ is not important or see Wall St. and the bankers burn, but this is not ‘good’. That’s why from a consequentialist perspective I supported the unpopular but necessary bank bailouts. It wasn’t pleasurable seeing Wall St. get thrown a lifeline, but it was the right thing to do.

The fact Reddit users see through Gladwell’s bullshit gives me faith in millenials, or at least those on Reddit and 4chan.

Like I mentioned before in a response to a Techcrunch essay by Jon Evans, the elephant in the room is IQ, and all of the aforementioned individuals, Zuck, Elon, Jobs, Gates.. etc, with the possible exception of Richard Branson, have very high IQs. But a simple search of the Quora page yielded not a single match for IQ among any of the replies. If you want to be as great as those people – while hard work and obsession does help – so to is being in the top .1% of IQ. Bill Gates got a near-perfect SAT score on the ‘hard’ pre-1995 test, corresponding to an IQ of 160 or so. While Woz is often credited as being the ‘brains’ of Apple, Jobs skipped many grades and still found his schoolwork super-easy, giving him time to ponder the wonders of technology. Elon Musk is a physicist/rocket scientist, applying his intellect in his role in Paypal, SpaceX, Solar City, and Tesla. Zuckerberg was a coding prodigy, creating websites as his peers were still struggling with simplifying fractions. Warren Buffett, who isn’t on the list, entered college early and knew more about finance than his professors. And this applies not just to technology, but writing (and a slightly different take), mathematics, trading, chess – any field that requires brain power, but more specifically, memorization and making inferences between disparate pieces of data – skills that IQ tests measure.

But also interesting, notice how the question is titled, How can I be as great as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, and Richard Branson? It’s more like, how can I be a great, like a technology leader? People equate greatness with high-IQ professions such as information technology and space travel. No one asks, how can I be as great as Don Thompson? But, ultimately, I’ll end it at this: The uncomfortable reality is that IQ, which is a biological trait, is more important than many people want to believe/accept. More than ever, in our increasingly competitive and technological economy and society, life outcomes seem to be influenced by IQ, with smarter people tending to rise to the top.

Related: So much for that 10,000 hour rule