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The 3 Kinds of Intelligence You Need to Succeed in Life

There are three types of intelligence that are necessary for success in life, says the noted psychologist Robert Sternberg.


How do we know someone is intelligent? Is it their ability to ace tests or crunch numbers? Psychologist Robert J. Sternberg sees intelligence not as a narrow, monolithic quality that makes you good at chess or getting top grades, but as an interplay between the analytical, practical and creative aspects of your mind. He calls this “the Triarchic theory of intelligence.”

Analytical intelligence is what you probably imagine it is - the pure brain power with which you process information. It is invoked when you need to analyze something or solve problems. This is the type of braininess measured by IQ tests, which in Sternberg’s view are woefully inadequate in determining someone’s overall intelligence as they focus only on the analytical side. 

Creative intelligence comes into play when people need to think creatively and adjust effectively to new situations. This kind of intelligence is also responsible for synthesizing information and gaining insights. Another way to think about this is having the ability to use the knowledge and skills you already have to manage novel or unusual situations. 

Practical intelligence involves the ability to deal with daily tasks in the real world. You can call it “street smarts” that show how well a person relates to the external environment. It is also directed towards goals which seek to adapt to or transform the world around you. Intelligent behavior involves adapting to your environment, changing your environment, or selecting a better environment,” wrote Sternberg.  

When you measure this type of intelligence, you are looking not just for mental prowess, but factors such as emotion and attitude that also influence how well the person makes decisions. A leader, who has a strong ability to understand and motivate people as well as to delegate responsibility to the right individuals would score high in practical smarts. 

An important aspect of practical intelligence is the ability to learn. To gain knowledge, it’s not enough to have experiences, but to glean from them the key information that can be adapted in other situations. 

Sternberg, who is a professor at Cornell University, sees an intelligent person as someone who can find the right balance between the different mental abilities while they solve problems they encounter. Sternberg also believes that it’s possible to excel in more than one type of intelligence. Many people use all three at a high level. This can often be the reason for their success in life.

In an interview, Sternberg points out that people who reach success are usually the ones who “found something they do really well”. And that area of excellence can really vary from person to person. It’s also important, according to Sternberg, to identify what you don’t do so well and find help to make up for those deficiencies. 

Here’s how Sternberg explains his views on intelligence:

I prefer to refer to it as "successful intelligence." And the reason is that the emphasis is on the use of your intelligence to achieve success in your life.   So I define it as your skill in achieving whatever it is you want to attain in your life within your sociocultural context. Meaning that people have different goals for themselves, and for some it's to get very good grades in school and to do well on tests, and for others it might be to become a very good basketball player or actress or musician. So, it's your skill in obtaining what you want in life within your sociocultural context [which] means that if you want to be an axe murderer it wouldn't count--by capitalizing on your strengths and compensating for, or correcting, your weaknesses.

While adapting to weaknesses is one smart thing to do, another is to know when to quit. Sternberg points out that to be “successfully intelligent means knowing when you're in the wrong place at the wrong time - the wrong job, the wrong relationship, the wrong place to live.” 

It’s also worth noting that being considered intelligent in one culture does not necessarily mean you're intelligent in another, according to Sternberg. Whatever your circumstances, you just have to find the best place and activity for you to maximize your abilities.

Initially driven by his distaste for tests in developing a broader model of intelligence, Sternberg developed his own measure of how a person uses intelligence under his model. Check out a study on the effectiveness of the Sternberg Triarchic Abilities Test (STAT). You can also read Sternberg’s book on the Triarchic theory of intelligence. 

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Is this proof of a dramatic shift?

Strange Maps
  • Map details dramatic shift from CNN to Fox News over 10-year period
  • Does it show the triumph of "fake news" — or, rather, its defeat?
  • A closer look at the map's legend allows for more complex analyses

Dramatic and misleading

Image: Reddit / SICResearch

The situation today: CNN pushed back to the edges of the country.

Over the course of no more than a decade, America has radically switched favorites when it comes to cable news networks. As this sequence of maps showing TMAs (Television Market Areas) suggests, CNN is out, Fox News is in.

The maps are certainly dramatic, but also a bit misleading. They nevertheless provide some insight into the state of journalism and the public's attitudes toward the press in the US.

Let's zoom in:

  • It's 2008, on the eve of the Obama Era. CNN (blue) dominates the cable news landscape across America. Fox News (red) is an upstart (°1996) with a few regional bastions in the South.
  • By 2010, Fox News has broken out of its southern heartland, colonizing markets in the Midwest and the Northwest — and even northern Maine and southern Alaska.
  • Two years later, Fox News has lost those two outliers, but has filled up in the middle: it now boasts two large, contiguous blocks in the southeast and northwest, almost touching.
  • In 2014, Fox News seems past its prime. The northwestern block has shrunk, the southeastern one has fragmented.
  • Energised by Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, Fox News is back with a vengeance. Not only have Maine and Alaska gone from entirely blue to entirely red, so has most of the rest of the U.S. Fox News has plugged the Nebraska Gap: it's no longer possible to walk from coast to coast across CNN territory.
  • By 2018, the fortunes from a decade earlier have almost reversed. Fox News rules the roost. CNN clings on to the Pacific Coast, New Mexico, Minnesota and parts of the Northeast — plus a smattering of metropolitan areas in the South and Midwest.

"Frightening map"

Image source: Reddit / SICResearch

This sequence of maps, showing America turning from blue to red, elicited strong reactions on the Reddit forum where it was published last week. For some, the takeover by Fox News illustrates the demise of all that's good and fair about news journalism. Among the comments?

  • "The end is near."
  • "The idiocracy grows."
  • "(It's) like a spreading disease."
  • "One of the more frightening maps I've seen."
For others, the maps are less about the rise of Fox News, and more about CNN's self-inflicted downward spiral:
  • "LOL that's what happens when you're fake news!"
  • "CNN went down the toilet on quality."
  • "A Minecraft YouTuber could beat CNN's numbers."
  • "CNN has become more like a high-school production of a news show."

Not a few find fault with both channels, even if not always to the same degree:

  • "That anybody considers either of those networks good news sources is troubling."
  • "Both leave you understanding less rather than more."
  • "This is what happens when you spout bullsh-- for two years straight. People find an alternative — even if it's just different bullsh--."
  • "CNN is sh-- but it's nowhere close to the outright bullsh-- and baseless propaganda Fox News spews."

"Old people learning to Google"

Image: Google Trends

CNN vs. Fox News search terms (200!-2018)

But what do the maps actually show? Created by SICResearch, they do show a huge evolution, but not of both cable news networks' audience size (i.e. Nielsen ratings). The dramatic shift is one in Google search trends. In other words, it shows how often people type in "CNN" or "Fox News" when surfing the web. And that does not necessarily reflect the relative popularity of both networks. As some commenters suggest:

  • "I can't remember the last time that I've searched for a news channel on Google. Is it really that difficult for people to type 'cnn.com'?"
  • "More than anything else, these maps show smart phone proliferation (among older people) more than anything else."
  • "This is a map of how old people and rural areas have learned to use Google in the last decade."
  • "This is basically a map of people who don't understand how the internet works, and it's no surprise that it leans conservative."

A visual image as strong as this map sequence looks designed to elicit a vehement response — and its lack of context offers viewers little new information to challenge their preconceptions. Like the news itself, cartography pretends to be objective, but always has an agenda of its own, even if just by the selection of its topics.

The trick is not to despair of maps (or news) but to get a good sense of the parameters that are in play. And, as is often the case (with both maps and news), what's left out is at least as significant as what's actually shown.

One important point: while Fox News is the sole major purveyor of news and opinion with a conservative/right-wing slant, CNN has more competition in the center/left part of the spectrum, notably from MSNBC.

Another: the average age of cable news viewers — whether they watch CNN or Fox News — is in the mid-60s. As a result of a shift in generational habits, TV viewing is down across the board. Younger people are more comfortable with a "cafeteria" approach to their news menu, selecting alternative and online sources for their information.

It should also be noted, however, that Fox News, according to Harvard's Nieman Lab, dominates Facebook when it comes to engagement among news outlets.

CNN, Fox and MSNBC

Image: Google Trends

CNN vs. Fox (without the 'News'; may include searches for actual foxes). See MSNBC (in yellow) for comparison

For the record, here are the Nielsen ratings for average daily viewer total for the three main cable news networks, for 2018 (compared to 2017):

  • Fox News: 1,425,000 (-5%)
  • MSNBC: 994,000 (+12%)
  • CNN: 706,000 (-9%)

And according to this recent overview, the top 50 of the most popular websites in the U.S. includes cnn.com in 28th place, and foxnews.com in... 27th place.

The top 5, in descending order, consists of google.com, youtube.com, facebook.com, amazon.com and yahoo.com — the latter being the highest-placed website in the News and Media category.
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