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This article presents a theory of successful intelligence. The theory is substantially broader than conventional theories of intelligence. It defines intelligence in terms of the ability to achieve one's goals in life, within one's sociocultural context. The article is divided into four major parts. The article opens with a consideration of the nature of intelligence. Then it discusses measurement of intelligence. Next it discusses how people can be intelligent but foolish. Finally it draws conclusions.
Keywords: Successful inteligence; analytical intelligence; creative intelligence; pratical intelligence.
Este artículo presenta una teoría de Inteligencia exitosa. La teoría es substancialmente más ancha que la teorías convencionales de inteligencia. Define inteligencia por lo que se refiere a la habilidad de lograr las metas de uno en la via, dentro del contexto sociocultural de uno. El artículo es dividido en cuatro partes. El artículo abre con una consideración de la naturaleza de inteligencia. Entonces discute una medida de inteligencia. Luego discute cómo las personas pueden ser inteligentes pero ingenuas. Finalmente, dibuja las conclusiones.
Palabras-clave: Inteligencia exitosa; inteligencia analítica; inteligencia criativa; inteligencia prática.
Conventional views of intelligence favor individuals who are strong in memory and analytical abilities (e.g., Carroll, 1993; Cattell, 1971; Jensen, 1998). They disfavor most other individuals. The result is that individuals who may have the talents to succeed in life may be labeled as unintelligent, whereas some of those labeled as intelligent may be less endowed with such talents. This article presents a broader theory of intelligence that is more encompassing, but that is nevertheless rigorously validated. The theory is the theory of successful intelligence (Sternberg, 1997).
The history of the theory presented here has been documented, to some extent, in two earlier theoretical articles (Sternberg, 1980b, 1984). In the first article (Sternberg, 1980b) a theory of components of intelligence was presented. The article made the argument arguing that intelligence could be understood in terms of a set of elementary information-processing components that contributed to people's intelligence and individual differences in it. In the second article (Sternberg, 1984) the theory was expanded to include not just the analytical aspect of intelligence, which had been the emphasis of the earlier article, but the creative and practical aspects of intelligence as well.
The Nature of Intelligence
There are many definitions of intelligence, although intelligence is typically defined in terms of a person's ability to adapt to the environment and to learn from experience (Sternberg & Detterman, 1986). The definition of intelligence here is somewhat more elaborate and is based on my (Sternberg, 1997, 1998a, 1999c) theory of successful intelligence. According to this definition: (Successful) intelligence is: 1) the ability to achieve one's goals in life, given one's sociocultural context; 2) by capitalizing on strengths and correcting or compensating for weaknesses; 3) in order to adapt to, shape, and select environments; and, 4) through a combination of analytical, creative, and practical abilities.
Consider first Item 1. Intelligence involves formulating a meaningful and coherent set of goals, and having the skills and dispositions to reach those goals. One individual may wish to be a statesperson, another, a scientist, and still another, an artist. Others may decide on careers in athletics, plumbing, politics, acting, or whatever. The question typically is not so much what goals individuals have chosen, but rather, what the individuals have done so that they can realize those goals in a meaningful way. Thus, this item actually includes three sub-items: a) identifying meaningful goals; b) coordinating those goals in a meaningful way so that they form a coherent story of what one is seeking in life; and, c) moving a substantial distance along the path toward reaching those goals.
This first item recognizes that "intelligence" means a somewhat different thing to each individual. The individual who wishes to become a Supreme Court judge will be taking a different path from the individual who wishes to become a distinguished novelist--but both will have formulated a set of coherent goals toward which to work. An evaluation of intelligence should focus not on what goal is chosen but rather on whether the individual has chosen a worthwhile set of goals and shown the skills and dispositions needed to achieve them.
Item 2 recognizes that although psychologists sometimes talk of a "general" factor of intelligence (Jensen, 1998; Spearman, 1927; see essays in Sternberg, 2000; Sternberg & Grigorenko, 2002b), really, virtually no one is good at everything or bad at everything. People who are the positive intellectual leaders of society have identified their strengths and weaknesses, and have found ways to work effectively within that pattern of abilities.
There is no single way to succeed in a job that works for everyone. For example, some lawyers are successful by virtue of their very strong analytical skills. They may never argue in a courtroom, but they can put together an airtight legal argument. Another lawyer may have a commanding presence in the courtroom, but be less powerful analytically. The legal profession in the United Kingdom recognizes this distinction by having separate roles for the solicitor and the barrister. In the United States, successful lawyers find different specializations that allow them to make the best use of their talents. Unsuccessful lawyers may actually attempt to capitalize on weaknesses, for example, litigating cases when their legal talent lies elsewhere.
This same general principle applies in any profession. Consider, for example, teaching. Educators often try to distinguish characteristics of expert teachers (see Sternberg & Williams, 2001), and indeed, they have distinguished some such characteristics. But the truth is that teachers can excel in many different ways. Some teachers are better in giving large lectures; others in small seminars; others in one-on-one mentoring. There is no one formula that works for every teacher. Good teachers figure out their strengths and try to arrange their teaching so that they can capitalize on their strengths and at the same time either compensate for or correct their weaknesses. Team teaching is one way of doing so, in that one teacher can compensate for what the other does not do well.
Item 3 recognizes that intelligence broadly defined refers to more than just "adapting to the environment," which is the mainstay of conventional definitions of intelligence. The theory of successful intelligence distinguishes among adapting, shaping, and selecting.
In adaptation to the environment, one modifies oneself to fit an environment. The ability to adapt to the environment is important in life, and is especially important to individuals entering a new program. Most of them will be entering a new environment that is quite different from the one in which they previously have spent time. If they are not adaptable, they may not be able to transfer the skills they showed in the previous environment to the new one. Over the course of a life-time, environmental conditions change greatly. A kind of work that at one point in time may be greatly valued (e.g., forming a startup company) may, at another point in time, be valued little if at all. In research, the problems change, and sometimes, people who were effective in solving the problems of one decade are relatively ineffective in solving the problems of another decade. In governmental leadership, some elected leaders prove to be dinosaurs--people who were able to lead the country effectively under one set of conditions but not under another set of conditions (such as when the national or world economy tanks). Clearly, adaptability is a key skill in any definition of intelligence. An intellectual leader ought to be able to show the ability to adapt to a variety of environments.
In life, adaptation is not enough, however. Adaptation needs to be balanced with shaping. In shaping, one modifies the environment to fit what one seeks of it, rather than modifying oneself to fit the environment. Truly great people in any field are not just adaptors; they are also shapers. They recognize that they cannot change everything, but that if they want to have an impact on the world, they have to change some things. Part of successful intelligence is deciding what to change, and then how to change it.
When an individual enters an institution, one hopes that the individual will not only adapt to the environment, but shape it in a way that makes it a better place than it was before. Selection committees will wish to look for evidence not just of a candidate's engagement in a variety of activities, but also, of the individual's having made a difference in his or her involvement in those activities. Shaping is how one has this kind of impact (see Sternberg, 2003a).
Sometimes, one attempts unsuccessfully to adapt to an environment and then also fails in shaping that environment. No matter what one does to try to make the environment work out, nothing in fact seems to work. In such cases, the appropriate action may be to select another environment.
Many of the greatest people in any one field are people who started off in another field and found that the first field was not really the one in which they had the most to contribute. Rather than spend their lives doing something that turned out not to match their pattern of strengths and weaknesses, they had the sense to find something else to do where they really had a contribution to make.
Item 4 points out that successful intelligence involves a broader range of abilities than is typically measured by tests of intellectual and academic skills. Most of these tests measure primarily or exclusively memory and analytical abilities. With regard to memory, they assess the abilities to recall and recognize information. With regard to analytical abilities, they measure the skills involved when one analyzes, compares and contrasts, evaluates, critiques, and judges. These are important skills during the school years and in later life. But they are not the only skills that matter for school and life success. One needs not only to remember and analyze concepts; also one needs to be able to generate and apply them. Memory pervades analytic, creative, and practical thinking, and is necessary for their execution; but it is far from sufficient.
According to the proposed theory of human intelligence and its development (Sternberg, 1980b, 1984, 1985, 1990, 1997, 1999a, 2003b, 2004), a common set of processes underlies all aspects of intelligence. These processes are hypothesized to be universal. For example, although the solutions to problems that are considered intelligent in one culture may be different from the solutions considered to be intelligent in another culture, the need to define problems and translate strategies to solve these problems exists in any culture.
Metacomponents, or executive processes, plan what to do, monitor things as they are being done, and evaluate things after they are done. Examples of metacomponents are recognizing the existence of a problem, defining the nature of the problem, deciding on a strategy for solving the problem, monitoring the solution of the problem, and evaluating the solution after the problem is solved.
Performance components execute the instructions of the metacomponents. For example, inference is used to decide how two stimuli are related and application is used to apply what one has inferred (Sternberg, 1977). Other examples of performance components are comparison of stimuli, justification of a given response as adequate although not ideal, and actually making the response.
Knowledge-acquisition components are used to learn how to solve problems or simply to acquire declarative knowledge in the first place (Sternberg, 1985). Selective encoding is used to decide what information is relevant in the context of one's learning. Selective comparison is used to bring old information to bear on new problems. And selective combination is used to put together the selectively encoded and compared information into a single and sometimes insightful solution to a problem.
Although the same processes are used for all three aspects of intelligence universally, these processes are applied to different kinds of tasks and situations depending on whether a given problem requires analytical thinking, creative thinking, practical thinking, or a combination of these kinds of thinking. In particular, analytical thinking is invoked when components are applied to fairly familiar kinds of problems abstracted from everyday life. Creative thinking is invoked when the components are applied to relatively novel kinds of tasks or situations. Practical thinking is invoked when the components are applied to experience to adapt to, shape, and select environments. One needs creative skills and dispositions to generate ideas, analytical skills and dispositions to decide if they are good ideas, and practical skills and dispositions to implement one's ideas and to convince others of their worth (Sternberg, 1999b).
More details regarding the theory can be found in Sternberg (1984, 1985, 1997). Because the theory of successful intelligence comprises three …