Robert Steinberg's Sucessful Intelligences

Successful intelligence is a term that psychology Robert J. Sternberg first proposed, when he argued that there are three intelligences in human cognition. Sternberg, a victim of test anxiety, often scored low on IQ score tests early in school. As a result, teachers expected little of the young Steinberg. It was only the intervention of a fourth grade teacher who discounted tests that set him on the path to high achievement and success.

Consequently, Steinberg followed this path of self-discovery and made it his career to find out the reasons why IQ scores are an inaccurate measure of success and intelligence.


The Three Intelligences

The three intelligences, or as he also calls them three abilities, comprise what Sternberg calls Successful Intelligence: "the integrated set of abilities needed to attain success in life, however an individuals defines it, within his or her sociocultural context."

(1) Analytical intelligence -the ability to analyze and evaluate ideas, solve problems and make decisions
(2) Creative intelligence - involves going beyond what is given to generate novel and interesting ideas
(3) Practical intelligence - the ability that individuals use to find the best fit between themselves and the demands of the environment.

Malcolm Gladwell's "Practical Intelligence"

In Outliers, Gladwell, the ever-curious public intellectual, reveals why some people succeed, living remarkably productive and impactful lives, while so many more never reach their potential. Building on much of Steinberg's ideas, Gladwell examines historical nuances from Asian rice paddies to the birthdates of Canadian junior hockey players. Thus, his examples reinforce the idea for us to re-examine our cherished belief of the "self-made man," and throws out the long-held notion that "superstars" come from nowhere.

Outliers of Society

While society tends to have bought into the idea that innate talent, through such test devices as IQ tests, can predict the success of a person, Gladwell re-examines this piece of wisdom, and argues otherwise. It gives us a better, more complex, inquiry into what fuels success. He calls these anomalies of successful people, "outliers" of society.

Although born with innate genius and talent, successful people are invariably the beneficiaries of hidden advantages and extraordinary opportunities and cultural legacies that allow them to learn and work hard and make sense of the world in ways others cannot. While there are a plethora of intellectual points for discussion, the three elements that comprise successful intelligence is another key element to understanding what produces success.


Although descriptions of intelligence focus on mental abilities such as vocabulary, comprehension, memory and problem-solving, the fact is, intelligence cannot be measured by logical tests alone. Steinberg's personal experiences and success shows us that it's a combination of many elements for success.

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