Thursday, October 26, 2020

Why Not Let People Use Their Intelligence?

Here's a truly radical idea, reported on October 14th this year in the Toronto Star newspaper. A Canadian company called Algorithmics thinks that its staff should be allowed—even encouraged—to use their intelligence at work. Here's a snippet from the article, called: A premium placed on intelligence:
We encourage creativity,' said Zerbs, one of the youngest employees when the firm started in 1989 and now one of the company elders at the age of 42. 'It's a very fast moving industry, so you can not just manage it top down, you have to allow people to basically think about new ideas, present new ideas, feel comfortable discussing new ideas with peers.'

That's backed up by a recent survey the company carried out among a group of Toronto staff.

'The thing that is most appreciated is the opportunity to use their intellect, that's the thing that attracts them,' said Deborah Troister, vice-president of human resources. 'That's the most important thing to them. It is way above the salary, if you ask them to list priorities that is the one that successively comes out on top.'

Otherwise, Algorithmics' research and development staff, who make up about 60 per cent of the Toronto employees, 'are just regular people who happen to be really smart,' said Troister.
It would be easy to start a cynical, sarcastic rant at this point, but I will resist. It is sufficient to say that companies who recruit smart people, then deny them the chance to use their intelligence for whatever reason, are purposely throwing away large amounts of shareholders' money, and should be treated appropriately. Sadly, that group seems to include the vast majority of major corporations today.

Succeeding in business is not easy. It takes brains as well as determination. Besides, clever, creative people don't relish being denied the opportunity to use what they have probably come to see as their greatest strength. If they walk out, who can blame them? And what will be left? An organization full of people who didn't leave, probably because intelligence is not their greatest strength. Which may well explain why many organizations behave as they do.

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Of course I'm in total agreement that people should be able to use their intelligence in their work. But this is an intelligence point I am stuck on: The kind of intelligence that we reward in school -- memorizing facts, learning trends, regurgitating what someone taught us -- is not the kind of creative problem solving kind of intelligence that is important at work. So I think a lot of people want to be using the school kind of intelligence, becuase that's what they're good at, but it's not what we need at work.
I am with you much of the way, Penelope, but not quite all. There is still some space for the "school-type" intelligence, I suspect, but far more, as you so rightly point out, for the creative, free-ranging kind. If schools taught children how to think and how to learn, as they ought to, instead of feeding them a diet of regimented facts in order to pass standardized tests imposed by anxious politicians, everyone would be both happier and more productive.

But my main hope is that more people will be willing to think and use all and every type of intelligence they have, instead of either blindly copying the past, or rushing into ill-considered action just to look busy.

And whatever we learned at school, surely nothing stops us from using our minds in a better way as adults—so long as we recognize what that is, and aren't beaten down by bosses looking for obedience rather than innovation.

Thanks so much for your comment . . . and please, keep reading.
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