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IQ is just a number

On Quora, I find a lot of questions about IQ. “What is it like to have an extremely high IQ?” “What is the relationship between IQ and BMI?” “Does an IQ of 142 give me bragging rights?”

Yes, these are actual questions. And an IQ of 142 does give you bragging rights over me, since my IQ is 141. Still, that qualifies me for being gifted, or a stable genius, or something like that.

But here is something I learned: IQ is just a number.

As a real measure of intelligence, IQ has flaws. It doesn’t account for intellectual curiosity and flexibility. It doesn’t measure judgement. It can’t predict your motivation for achievement. It may be culturally biased. At best, IQ indicates how well you did on a particular test at a specific time.

Unfortunately, we give that test the power to determine people’s lives.

IQ was a big deal when I was a child. Schools used that test to place students in classrooms and enroll them in gifted programs with bonus classes and field trips. That score also shaped how parents raised their children. It drove parents to give their high IQ children more praise and encouragement than their children who scored lower. (At the same time, they might discourage their children from sports and social activities because “that’s not what smart kids do.”) The schools shape parents’ expectations, and the parents reinforce it with the schools.

Like when my mom said to one of my teachers about my brother, “Don’t expect him to be as smart as Matthew…”

Intelligence, like other forms of talent, offers certain advantages. It helps you learn quicker and find solutions others might not see. But it is not the sole factor in determining success. Creativity, motivation, persistence, judgement, and resilience are more important and can’t be scored with a number. Ultimately, you are judged by what you do with your intelligence than how much of it you supposedly have.

So, my answer to those folks on Quora is this: Don’t be fixated on IQ. It’s just a number. Focus on what you can do with the abilities and resources you have and make the most of them.

Also published on Medium.