Why do people get dumber when they join organizations?
Alfred Binet invented the first intelligence test in the late 1800s and since then Terman, Spearman, Horn and Cattell, Guilford, Cronbach, Gardner, Scarr, Hernstein and Murray, Riggio, Sternberg, and others have hypothesized about the nature of intelligence, whether it is a unitary or multi-dimensional ability, and how it should be measured.
Bob Hogan believes intelligence in everyday life consists of two related abilities. Strategic intelligence is a person’s ability to cut through the clutter and detect problems.
Those with higher levels more readily detect patterns in data, differentiate symptoms from underlying root causes, and prioritize issues than their counterparts with less strategic intelligence.
Tactical intelligence is a person’s ability to solve problems that have already been defined. Those with lower tactical intelligence choose solutions that only partially solve problems or result in unintended consequences whereas people with more of this ability choose solutions that optimize short and long-term outcomes.
Research shows that intelligence alone does not guarantee success, but in general smarter people are better leaders, doctors, lawyers, engineers, pilots, financial planners, military officers, assembly line workers, etc. than those who are less bright. Because problem solving and decision-making are important aspects of many jobs, companies often hire candidates with higher levels of strategic and tactical intelligence. Yet they routinely discount employees’ intelligence, experience levels, or educational backgrounds and default to hiring consultants whenever facing critical problems. Many times employees are the first to recognize serious challenges facing the business (strategic intelligence) but their exhortations are ignored until top management pays top dollar to be told the same thing by McKinsey or Boston Consulting Group. Employees also see flaws in solutions being implemented (tactical intelligence) but top management tends to view their questions as resistance rather than ways to improve the business. Yet if consultants raise the same questions then they are seen as brilliant and their ideas are given immediate consideration.
Because the tendency for top management to ignore internal advice is so pervasive, it seems like the fastest way for someone to lower their IQ is to join a company. As an outsider your ideas will be seen as insightful but as soon as you join an organization these same thoughts will be viewed as complaints. It is almost as if new employees are given stupid pills are part of a company’s on-boarding process. Many companies have the wherewithal to solve their own issues, and by better leveraging their own resources they will have more engaged and empowered employees and happier shareholders. But this takes strong leadership, and many at the top find it easier to hire outsiders than do the hard work needed to solve their own problems.