When ideas have sex: The collaborative society and the irrelevance of IQ

I recently watched this fantastic video called “When Ideas Have Sex” by Matt Ridley. It made me question why we even consider IQ to matter in the first place.

He suggests that our entire progress as a species, as well as the astronomical increase in living standards we have seen over the last 200 years rests on our unique ability to exchange both material goods and ideas.

“I’m not interested in the debate about IQ, about whether some groups have higher IQ’s than other groups. It’s completely irrelevant. What’s relevant to a society is how well people are communicating their ideas, and how well they’re co-operating, not how clever the individuals are…it’s the interchange of ideas, the meeting and mating of ideas that is causing technological progress, incrementally, bit by bit, however bad things happen”

So does IQ even matter?

I’m sure that like me you some people who might score high on an IQ text – but they refuse to consider the point of view of other people and remain inflexible. By the same token, other people might score low on an IQ test but remain open to new ideas and can approach issues from different perspectives.

Although there are conflicting opinions in the scientific community about whether IQ tests predict creative achievement (CA), a 2008 meta-analysis found a significantly higher relationship between divergent thinking tests and CA than IQ tests and CA. More recently, researchers investigated children’s ability to create new raven’s progressive matrices (rather than simply measuring their ability to solve them), and found that problem solving ability is not a precondition for creative reasoning, and that these two skills require different abilities.

In light of this evidence, of what value is it to judge or even attempt to measure a child’s IQ? An over emphasis on IQ might even be detrimental to a child’s overall creative and divergent thinking abilities, something that I noticed that Adrian has touched upon this week.

The world we currently live in allows virtually everyone (not just the educated or the rich elite) to share their ideas with the world, collaborate with others, and contribute to this “bit by bit” progression of civilization.

An excellent example of this is our.windowfarms.org, an online community set up by people interested in growing vegetables in the windows of their small city apartments hydroponically (i.e. pumping nutrient solution to the roots of the plant rather than growing them in soil).


Through the process of collaboration, sharing ideas, and a “research and do-it-yourself” ethos, this community progressed from generally inefficient and crude methods of hydroponic farming to developing continuously improving window farming methods.

As the internet changes the way we organize ourselves and interact, projects like our.windowfarms.org and www.ikeahackers.net will become more commonplace, and qualities such as openness, creative reasoning and experimentation will begin to supercede the narrow, convergent IQ centered type of intelligence that our current education system places such a high value on. Our education system needs to change accordingly.

  1. ehe2012 said:

    I find the ‘relative importance’ of factors like IQ and creativity a fascinating topic. The scientific concensus, as far as I can tell, seems to be going in the direction that IQ does matter, but only up to a certain (somewhat fuzzy) cutoff point. Jensen (1980) offers some useful IQ benchmarks, for instance:
    < 50: individual cannot attend regular school
    < 75: individual probably cannot master primary school subject matter
    < 105: individual probably cannot succeed academically in high school
    < 115 individual will have difficulties gaining admission to a competitive postgraduate study programme

    Beyond 115, Jensen concludes "IQ level becomes relatively unimportant in terms of ordinary occupational aspirations and criteria of success."

    So what matters beyond this point? Hudson (1966) examined Sixth Form students at elite British boarding schools using the 'uses of objects' test for creativity. Here is what 'Florence', a student with one of the highest IQs in his school, wrote for the object 'brick': "Building things, throwing."

    And here is what 'Poole', a student from the same school, wrote: "To use in smash-and-grab raids. To help hold a house together. To use in a game of Russian roulette if you want to keep fit at the same time (bricks at ten paces, turn and throw – no evasive action allowed). To hold the eiderdown on a bed tie a brick at each corner. As a breaker of empty Coca-Cola bottles."

    Both boys are undoubtedly very intelligent, but who do you think will have a more successful career and fulfilling life?

  2. I found some old but interesting research (Kershner & Ledger, 1985) suggesting that those with high IQ’s (according to traditional IQ tests- flawed, I know) have greater verbal originality- being able to create and share widely divergent ideas. This implies that those with a high IQ have an advantage in communication of their ideas over those with an average IQ. However, in all the other indices of creativity, such as providing a large number of non-verbal solutions to problems (linking in with creating the new Raven’s progressive matrices)- IQ had no effect. Interestingly girls (irrespective of IQ) performed better in producing a wide variety of solutions to problems in tests of creativity. Maybe we need to consider a gender superiority, rather than an IQ superiority (I joke!) But in seriousness, encouraging and supporting co-education seems to be important for generating ideas and finding a variety of solutions to a problem.
    In a discussion of the appropriateness, usefulness and validity of various tests of creativity, Crockenberg (1972) suggests that educators should create an environment that fosters creativity. This is instead of creating environments that enhance ‘creative individuals’ – as if it is necessary to quantify creativity?! This fostering of creativity is beginning to come into our education system. The Skills Framework for 3-19 year olds in Wales (WAG,2008) highlights the importance of ‘developing thinking’. This includes ‘‘Develop and begin to combine a variety of imaginative ideas, possibilities and alternatives, including those of others.’
    If applied successfully, the ideas in the Skills Framework should cultivate a new generation that is adaptive, creative, and innovative. Let’s see what happens!
    Kershner & Ledger (198)5http://unicat.bangor.ac.uk:4550/resserv?sid=google&auinit=JR&aulast=Kershner&atitle=Effect+of+sex,+intelligence,+and+style+of+thinking+on+creativity:+A+comparison+of+gifted+and+average+IQ+children.&id=doi:10.1037/0022-3514.48.4.1033&title=journal+of+personality+and+social+psychology&volume=48&issue=4&date=1985&spage=1033&issn=0022-3514
    Crockenberg (1972)http://rer.sagepub.com/content/42/1/27.full.pdf
    WAG( 2008)Skills Framework for 3-19 year olds in Wales: http://wales.gov.uk/dcells/publications/curriculum_and_assessment/arevisedcurriculumforwales/skillsdevelopment/SKILLS_FRAMEWORK_2007_Engli1.pdf;jsessionid=vPy4Pf0Sv717Rq8Q9QpJvP1MKDGCg7GjJp68hTB58qxN73R2lYpJ!-862695484?lang=en

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