Beyond IQ: Scientific Tools For Training Problem Solving, Intuition, Emotional Intelligence, Creativity, And More, by Garth Sundem
[Note: This book has been provided by Blogging For Books/Three Rivers Press in exchange for an honest review.]
This particular book offers an intensely practical, often witty, and deeply scientific look at ways that people can increase their competence at mental tasks that do not require the raw power of intellect. The book makes the sensible point that there are two facts about intelligence, that we can do little about improving intellect (except for the fluid intellect that comes from memory improving exercises) but we can do a lot about other aspects of life that are often far more closely related to success in life, areas like solving problems (especially with people), showing empathy and concern for others and the ability to control our own behavior rather than let it be ruled by our emotions (emotional intelligence), overruling our biases and mental shortcuts, developing self-discipline and willpower. Speaking for myself, I cannot think of any occasions in life where my problems could have been solved by more raw intelligence, but I can think of many where emotional intelligence, a sounder intuition, and willpower and self-discipline, to name a few qualities, would have been immensely useful.
As might be expected, this particular book is organized according to various areas of practical intelligence, containing fifteen chapters: insight, practical intelligence, problem solving, creativity, intuition, technology, expertise, working memory, keeping intelligence, wisdom, performance under pressure, emotional intelligence, willpower, multitasking, and heuristics and biases. Coming in at around 200 pages, the chapters are small and contain many exercises that increase one’s brainpower. The answers to these exercises take up about 25 pages or so at the very end of the book. The book itself contains a lot of reference to books and studies by others in the field and offers a practice-based approach with minimal theoretical framework, which means this ought to appeal to those who want to increase success in life by paying attention to areas that are under conscious control and development. Intriguingly enough, though perhaps accidentally, many of these areas tend to involve intentionally struggling with difficult and complicated problems, and accepting nuance rather than the easy way out. This suggests that a life that is focused on building connections with others and taking on challenges is a good method for improving success and practical intelligence throughout life.
Also noteworthy is the fact that this book contains a lot of very quotable material that is subject for deeper thinking. For example, on page 53, the author states: “Each ingredient sounds straightforward, but when you look at the mix, you can see why so few people successfully cook up creativity. It requires motivation independent of external reward, years of painstaking preparation in the field, and the rare pairing of conscientiousness with abandon. Also, while these three factors open the possibility of creativity, expressing it also takes perseverance.” Although this is not a book that directly address moral behavior, it does suggest that wrestling with moral and ethical dilemmas and being concerned about others are matters that increase one’s success and happiness in life. Being good does one well, in other words. And the book does speak occasionally about wickedness, as when it talks about the role of environment in helping intuition on page 71: “Intuition researchers call environments that train correct intuitions “kind” and ones that train incorrect intuitions “wicked.” A kind training environment requires an obvious if-then link between the cause and its effect.” Here too, the book points us to areas of complication and nuance in our development of wisdom and insight about the world. Suffice it to say that I will keep this book and work on its exercises, and ponder the many and complicated ways in which practical intelligence involves us in looking at our environment, or moral and ethical state, and our concern for the people around us. Hopefully many others will do the same.