Supers Stars have higher IQs?

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Most of what we know about intelligence is wrong. Let me start with an example.

Who has the higher IQ?

The Chess Master or the steel worker?

Chess Master
Chess Master
Steel Worker
Steel Worker

No peeking! Make a choice.

If you said the Chess Master you would be in good company. Most people say the Chess Master. Their reasoning is that the average IQ for the overall group of Chess Masters is higher than the average IQ for the overall group of steel workers.

Therein lies the problem.

What many will extrapolate from the higher IQ average of the Chess Masters is that Chess Masters are smarter than steel workers. This is only true in broad categories and obscures considerable talent. Using broad group averages instead of flesh and blood humans is misleading.

In Geoff Colvin’s book, Talent is Overrated, he mentions a study of children who begin to study chess.

….The strength of IQ as a predictor of success dropped drastically as the children worked and got better, and IQ was of no value in predicting how quickly they would improve.

The research shows that high IQ is not necessary for great accomplishment. But what about the guy down the block who must be a genius because he is unbeatable at Chess?

He has “domain specific” knowledge. His ability to trounce you at the chess board is not tied to his IQ, it is tied to his commitment to master the game of chess. Indeed, plenty of Chess Masters have below average IQs. Just as plenty of steel workers have above average IQs.

This is very good news. ANYONE can develop domain specific knowledge in essentially any field.*

*Hedging my bets is so tacky, but . . . just in case. 🙂

Published bykatemckeon

You can try anything one time in Texas . . . after that we may shoot you. -Kate McKeon


  • Keri Eagan

    September 16, 2009 at 5:48 pm Reply

    Thanks. I would have said the steel worker but that was probably due to the posture of the chess player. (LOL posture doesn’t predict IQ either…unless there is a study somewhere…) I’m always telling my children about just keeping on learning. You’ll get it in the end.

    Keri Eagan
    Anything Alternative

  • Martin O'Connor

    September 14, 2009 at 6:22 am Reply

    First, the article is well written because it caught and held my attention. Good starter question.

    Second, I think it is a great article because it is in agreement with my own theories of intelligence that I came to after years of observing how people operate.

  • Lisa McLellan

    September 12, 2009 at 4:19 pm Reply

    Domain specific knowledge – I like the term. I’m thinking that the steel worker doesn’t need a higher IQ because he’s got to be hotter than the chess guy simply because of all the exercise he gets! lol just kidding. great topic

    Lisa McLellan
    Babysitting Tips, Babysitting Services – Babysitters, Nannies, and Au-pairs

    • Kate McKeon

      September 12, 2009 at 5:20 pm Reply

      Having worked in construction, sadly, I can state that the steel guys were hotter than chess players only because they were carrying torches….

  • Rob Northrup

    September 12, 2009 at 12:38 pm Reply

    The other thing that is needed to play chess at the grandmaster level is an encylopedic knowledge of previously played games. I had a roommate a GaTech who used to practice 8 hours a day. He was basically just studying one game after another.

    He could also play two people at once blindfolded and keep track of both boards in his mind at the same time and demolish both opponents..

    Seize the Day,
    Emergency Preparedness FFor the 21st Century Family

  • Terry

    September 12, 2009 at 12:13 pm Reply

    Domain specific knowledge in online marketing…working on it!
    I’ve heard about Emotional IQ is just as important.


  • Vicki

    September 12, 2009 at 9:00 am Reply

    You must have switched over some where as I went to google reader for commenting a few times and your page was blank. I knew that could not be so so probed a little farther and found you back – Thank-You.

    I love Chess. I played it for years when we were first married. We got a cool set one year when we were in Can Caun. I need to dig it back out for some cold and snowy night beside the fireplace.


  • Scott Payne

    September 12, 2009 at 8:23 am Reply

    I still have hope…. LOL Great Analogy

  • Bert Sarkkinen

    September 12, 2009 at 5:04 am Reply

    Thanks! That adds weight to the “perseverance trumps all other talents theory”.


  • Steve Chambers

    September 11, 2009 at 10:18 pm Reply

    When I think “chess master” I think of Bobby Fischer who, while he was a genius at chess, was pretty much non-functional and a little crazy beyond that. There is more than one type of intelligence and IQ is a very narrow measure.

    Steve Chambers
    Business to Business Sales Training Expert

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