Don’t Count Yourself Out: You Don’t Need a High IQ to Succeed

I want you to read the following statement aloud and write it down somewhere where you can see it every day. You do not have to be the smartest person; you just have to be smart enough.

Many of us know “that one guy/girl” we assumed would go on to be a brilliant lawyer, doctor, scientist, engineer, senator, etc. because they were a “genius” in school. It seemed as if school was effortless. Obtaining a perfect GPA was a walk in the park for them. We assumed that they went on to work in an elite job that only the top 5% of people in the world would have only to find out that they work in a relatively average job making an average wage. What happened?

The story is more common than you think. The person described above is an example who of an individual that has a high Intelligence Quotient (IQ)[i]. For a long time, we believed those with high IQs had a significant advantage of those with average IQs. However, we’re learning that this is not the case. A person’s IQ measures their ability to think analytically, think in the abstract, reason, and solve problems. That means the person with the IQ of 160 will have an easier time navigating through life and their career and achieving success right? Not necessarily. We now understand that those with high IQs may have an advantage in school, however it is not directly translating to post education success. In fact, those with High IQs only outperform those with average IQ 20% of the time with those who have average IQs outperform their high IQ peers 70% of the time.[ii]

How can this be?

For starters, it takes more than the variables that the IQ test measures to succeed in most professions. Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves discovered that Emotional Intelligence (EQ), which measures self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management actually has more to do with individual success than IQ. They found that 90% of all high performers were high in EQ while just 20% of low performers were identified as having high EQ.[iii] Those who measured high in EQ also made, on average, $29,000 more per year.[iv]

Having a high IQ points towards you having impressive analytical and problem solving abilities, it doesn’t mean you’ll have focus. A fair amount of success includes opportunity and work ethic. If a 14-year-old programmer has an IQ of 170 but doesn’t focus on programming, it may come easy to them but they may not become a great programmer. They are more than capable of programming, however they may not reach the level needed make any significant contributions to the field. In contrast, a 14-year-old with an IQ of 115 who spends an average of 5 hours a day programming for 10 years will have approximately 18,000 hours by the time they are 24 years old. They will have almost doubled the identified 10,000 hour mark that is widely accepted as the standard for a person to become an expert in a field. Who would you put your money on to make an impact?[v]    

Having a high IQ doesn’t hurt, but it doesn’t guarantee success either.      

Interested in learning more? Check out these titles:

Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry & Jean Greaves (Check out our review)

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell


[i] According to the Stanford-Binet Fifth scale high IQ is 145, average is 100, impaired is below 70

[ii] Emotional Intelligence 2.0 Pg.7 (Travis Bradberry & Jean Greaves)

[iii] EQ was tested and high/low performers were identified by peers

[iv] Emotional Intelligence 2.0 Pg.21 (Travis Bradberry & Jean Greaves)

[v] Refer to Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell for more information on the 10,000 hour rule

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