Sunday September 2, 2012
TALENT without opportunity achieves nothing. This is the problem facing all gifted people, in society: how will a gifted person find or create opportunities appropriate to that gift?
The greater the gift, the more rarefied the opportunity needs to be, to allow that gift to flourish.
Thus, the gifted person is confronted with an awkward conundrum: the more profound their gifts, the more unlikely it is that they will find the necessary opportunities to allow them to flourish.
There is another problem facing all gifted people in society.
A gifted person is one whose intellectual capacity is greater than the norm.
A moderately gifted person (the lowest level of “gifted”), with an IQ of 130, occurs with a rarity of one person in 44 in a population with a mean IQ of 100 and standard deviation of 15. That means they are brighter than 97.7% of the population.
Even at this low level of giftedness, the moderately gifted person faces discrimination of a different kind: the person presiding over any opportunity, job or a special situation, is not likely to be as bright as he or she is.
This presents a very real problem, as we shall see later.
However, the problem is even more acute for higher levels of giftedness.
The highly gifted person, with an IQ of 145, occurs with a rarity of one person in 741.
This means they are brighter than almost 99.9% of the population.
At this level it is almost certain that anyone empowered to decide over their fate, with respect to any opportunity, is not as bright as they are.
The exceptionally gifted person, with an IQ of 160 or more, occurs with a rarity of one person in 31,560. They are brighter than 99.997% of the population.
At this level, it is quite possible to live out one’s life, and never meet another person as bright.
Needless to say, anyone deciding on whether to offer them an opportunity, or not, is very likely to be less intelligent than they are.
In the worst case scenarios, for profoundly gifted people, the situation is essentially unimaginable.
According to standardised IQ rarity charts (which some evidence suggests may underestimate the abundance of the most gifted), someone of an IQ of 180, would occur in one person in 20,696,863.
This would mean that, in a country the size of Malaysia, there may not be another such person. Clearly, for all opportunities in their lives, the person deciding their fate will not be as bright.
Why is this phenomenon of relative brightness a problem? This matter was addressed by David Dunning and Justin Kruger in their research of 1999 which described the Dunning-Kruger effect.
This is a psychological phenomenon, in which, for any given skill, an incompetent person is unable to recognise genuine skills in others, yet they tend to overestimate their own competence.
Furthermore, they are completely unable to grasp the degree of their own incompetence.
However, if they receive special training in the relevant skills concerned, they do show an ability to become aware of their lack of skills.
Applying the Dunning-Kruger effect to the matter of relative intelligence, and considering general intelligence to be a mental skill which manifests the various skills a person has; we can see that a person who is not as bright is incapable of recognising the talent of a brighter individual, in a typical case.
Such people habitually tend to overestimate their own skill in relation to that of the brighter person. In situations in which a gifted person seeks an opportunity in life and that opportunity is decided upon by a person who is not as bright, the gifted person is usually unappreciated. So, even if the gifted person has much to offer an organisation, or employer, they may in fact, be denied the opportunity they need.
This is most likely to occur to the most gifted people, because fewer people are equipped to appreciate their gifts.
Is there a remedy to this? Yes, there is. Those offering employment opportunities should ensure that hiring individuals are aware of the Dunning-Kruger effect.
They should make particular effort to evaluate the talents of those who apply to them, using objective tests and criteria, which do not depend on human judgement — such as IQ and other intellectual and job-specific performance tests, whichever may be appropriate in the circumstances.
Those in the field of Human Resources must therefore use objective methods of assessing candidates and must overcome the natural limitations of their human judgement.
Only in a world that makes extensive use of objective criteria, will gifted people have the chance to reach the station most appropriate to their gifts.
This is good for society, too, since a society that best uses the talents of its gifted is a society that will become the best it can be.