Everyone can be a productive member of society, regardless of their brainpower and education, if they recognize both their limitations and their natural gifts.
That was a big message last week from author Charles Murray, who performed a public service in three essays for the Wall Street Journal. He highlighted the reality that serious smarts are divinely divvied to a relative few, adding that that’s okay (title of his second piece: “What’s Wrong with Vocational School?”). He wrote mostly about how young people, intelligent and less so, should approach their futures in education, with one conclusion being that too many of them go to college unnecessarily.
“Today’s simple truth,” Murray wrote, “(is that) half of all children are below average in intelligence.” Another piece of advice from The Bell Curve co-author: “If you are average in math ability, you may struggle with algebra and probably fail a calculus course. If you are average in verbal skills, you often misinterpret complex text and make errors in logic. These are not devastating shortcomings. You are smart enough to engage in any of hundreds of occupations.”
Indeed, those limitations not only are not “devastating”; they represent diversity (the valuable kind) in experience, giftedness, and knowledge, and are vital to a well-balanced workforce. The acquisition of knowledge and development of human ability are as natural as physical growth. Each individual is at a certain stage in life for a reason, with the incentive for improvement always before him.
So certain jobs, obviously, are for the smart and practiced, like engineers, physicians, and scientists. But most of the economy depends on differently- (not necessarily lower-) skilled laborers who do the jobs that sometimes don’t pay as well, and that would waste the talents of the bright folks. That’s not snobbery or class separation; it’s reality, and necessary to the division of labor among businesses and other endeavors that benefit us all.
Consider the example of American company No. 1, Wal-Mart Inc. Stating the obvious, the king of retail doesn’t attain its top-revenue status because its blue-vested ambassadors call the shots while its experienced, business-savvy executives stock shelves. Fairly enough, those with the intellect and know-how are burdened with the big decisions, and the responsibility for Wal-Mart’s successes and failures go with those decisions. Meanwhile those who are just starting their employment lives, or who are working their way up the career ladder, or (pardon the expression) are not blessed with as much brainpower, are compensated commensurately — both for better and for worse.
Of course, that is only from the perspective of one corporation. Brains do not represent the full potential of an individual, as areas of giftedness other than intelligence can make one stand out from his peers and lead him to career success. Natural talents such as artistry, physical ability, creativity, craftsmanship, drive, extroversion, and leadership can take a person a long way — often farther than the average smart guy.
Years ago I did accounting and payroll work for a construction company in Greensboro, N.C., that focused on telecommunications. Our president had worked his way up in the business over the years, starting as a cable splicer. If he and our other company executives took IQ tests back then, I suspect he would not have fared as well as his subordinates. Yet he was an effective leader and earned our respect because of his success, his motivation, and his business sense.
Conversely, one can have terrific talents that are hindered by laziness or other negative traits. In baseball, an example of maximizing your potential beyond expectations would be (comparatively) diminutive St. Louis Cardinals’ shortstop David Eckstein, who was the World Series Most Valuable Player last year. Meanwhile a case of squandering natural giftedness would be the drug-plagued former pitcher, the late Steve Howe.
In terms of intelligence, Murray writes, “It’s no use coming up with the example of a child who was getting Ds in school, met an inspiring teacher, and went on to become an astrophysicist. That is an underachievement storyâ€¦.
“I am among the most emphatic of those who think that the importance of IQ in living a good life is vastly overrated.”
Individuals are capable of great accomplishments despite intellectual mediocrity. Proof abounds that the same person who runs the floor shiner or the produce department can also end up running the company.
It’s just that without the effort, he can also get run off the job.
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