The Flynn Effect and the Social Multiplier

I'm not so keen on over reliance on simple metrics for quantifying people – call me a romantic but I think you lose something when you try too hard to plot a human on a graph. But when used carefully metrics for various human traits can be enlightening. One such metric is IQ.

IQ is one of the most controversial of metrics and we won't here delve into why that is. Suffice it to say that IQ tests appear to be decent predictor of certain kinds of ability. What's more interesting is that, especially when it comes to abstract reasoning tests, human IQs appear to be increasing rapidly.

This is known as the Flynn Effect – the rapid and sustained increase in IQ since the 1930s – and there are no doubt many reasons for it. We could probably put some of it down to better healthcare and diet – healthy body, healthy mind and so on – and perhaps to a decrease in things like lead in the water (yeah – that stuff's not good for the noggin) but a significant contributor, at least according to Flynn himself, is likely to be what is known as the Social Multiplier Effect.

One of the core principals of the Hard Not Complicated method is that creativity belongs to everyone. I love this principal because it's actually a two-for-one deal; it means that creativity is something that everyone can and should take part in and that the results of creativity are most powerful when we don't try to monopolise them. But when we add in the Social Multiplier Effect, we might start to think of this principal as a three-for-one big value pack; getting more people involved not only gives you more creative heads it also increases the capability of the collective; the creative company becomes more than the sum of its creative parts.

The Social Multiplier Effect is described neatly by the name – the effect of any given thing can be multiplied when it takes place within a group. For example, have you ever noticed how you work harder at the gym when the place is busy and full of dedicated gym-bunnies? Or how you learn more when you're in a class full of enthusiastic boffins? I certainly have. I also eat more when I'm around my more gluttonous friends and complain more when I'm with a bunch of Moaning Myrtles – it's a double edged sword in this regard!

Flynn argues that since the 1930s our work and educational circumstances have evolved such that we have more intensely focused, more concentrated groups of people working on abstract reasoning challenges. This focus on abstract reasoning, not alone but connected in groups, creates a rising tide that floats all ships higher. Put another way, when less capable abstract reasoners spend time around more capable ones, it rubs off. And, furthermore, the increased abstract reasoning skills of the formerly less capable person rub off, in turn, on those around him.

Bringing this back to the principal that creativity belongs to everyone, I can't help but think about my clients and how they work in their organisations – about how creativity can either become something for the elite or something for everyone. It seems obvious to me that abstract reasoning skills, if they can be improved by the Social Multiplier, would massively boost creative output and it therefore behoves all of us to get as many people involved in the creative process and thinking about abstract problems as humanly possibly within the constraints of our working lives.

Normalising creativity is my North Star and it seems that normalising anything begins with language. That's why I try to avoid words like "talent" or "gifted" as well as placing greater emphasis on ideas like grit, attitude, and embracing imperfections as a strength. I also advise my clients to be careful about the signals they send through the choices they make in how they name teams or hand out awards.

Pop back on Wednesday for my quick tips on normalising creativity. Until then, remember, creativity is Hard Not Complicated!


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