Sunday, 1 January 2017

So smart, then why not rich?

We have always known it all along. Now it has become bankable data from today's article entitled "If you're so intelligent, why aren't you rich?" written by Faye Flam, a columnist.
Nobel prize winner Professor Heckman once asked this: "How much is a child's future success determined by innate intelligence?"
Here is his reply as reported by Faye: "(Economist James Heckman) likes to ask educated non-scientists - especially politicians and policymakers - how much of the difference between people's incomes can be tied to IQ. Most guess around 25 per cent, even 50 per cent, he says. But the data suggests a much smaller influence: about 1 per cent or 2 per cent."
Yes, just 1% to 2%. So don't throw your weight around, smart aleck!
For Professor Heckman, he found that "financial success was correlated with conscientiousness, a personality trait marked by diligence, perseverance and self-discipline." Don't we already know this?
Wait a minute. This is the catch. After a longitudinal study, that is, following a group of people for decades, "tracking not just income but also criminal records, body mass index and self-reported life satisfaction", the study found that "grades and achievement-test results were markedly better predictors of adult success than raw IQ scores."
Fay went on to write: "That might seem surprising - after all, don't they all measure the same thing? Not quite. Grades reflect not just intelligence but also what Prof Heckman calls "non-cognitive skills", such as perseverance, good study habits and the ability to collaborate - in other words, conscientiousness. To a lesser extent, the same is true of test scores. Personality counts."
So, good grades still matters. Meritocracy and that academic track still carry some weight. And the irresistible conclusion is that those with good grades are generally smarter in term of having a higher IQ. But he or she doesn't need to have Einstein kind of IQ to succeed, financially. Just a good dose of it plus lots of good attitude, passion and perseverance, and he or she is good to conquer the world.
Lesson? I recall that the veteran banker Wee Cho Yaw was once told by the late Goh Keng Swee that it is better to be born lucky than to be smart. And the billionaire Warren Buffet, that is, the "oracle of Omaha", admitted that if he were born in some slums in India, he would not have been so successful. He may even be dead before five.
My point? It is no doubt a blessing to be genetically endowed. All the more lucky for you if you are also endowed with good and balanced personality traits with strong values to boot (for those who believe strictly in nature instead of nurture of course).
But I think in the end one have to confront two of those definitions as mentioned in the article.
One of them is this: what is success? Is it purely a financial concept or is it also social, innovative, emotional, even religious? Or is there more to being financially and socially successful?
How do you measure contentment and fulfillment in one's life? And at what stage of life should such measurement be taken? And should such measurement (if taken) be deemed reliable, objective and enduring; or worse, defines that person for life?
This brings me to the second definition, and it is "test". How do you test personality, character and perseverance in one sitting short of following that subject through life and for life? There are of course longitudinal studies, but they are limited in numbers and their findings may not fully capture all-rounded success, especially one's contentment and fulfillment in life.
So, my second point as I end?
I have interviewed many in the prime of their youth who are undeniably smart and also presented themselves well in the interviews.
Most of them are going to Oxford, NUS or SMU. I guess most of them, if not all, will be successful - that is, if success means earning their first million dollar before 30, being adored by many for their material achievements, and/or securing that coveted title of being the captain of their industry. I have no doubt that it takes some good character and sound values to achieve all that.
But if the book of Ecclesiastes is anything to go by, Solomon was not lamenting over the disappointment of failures, but the disappointment of success. To him, a man with everything, adored by many and one who lived in unimaginable riches, he was struggling with success - not so much with failure.
To me, success boils down to the taming of one's heart. This is not an abstract concept. It is however an essential, if not necessary, one.
You see, whatever happens to us - whether by luck, abilities or smarts - happens to us. But how we filter (or process) it through our hearts is what truly matters and enduring.
You can be rich with envy. Or be admired with hypocrisy. Or be famous with lust and insecurity. Or possess all with discontentment. So, you can be successful all round - by the standards of this world - but still feel like a failure inside.
In the end, a successful person in my book is one who has tamed his heart and this is a lifelong journey. And most importantly, such journey cannot be self-referential, that is, one that appeals to self. It has to be tied to a purpose far greater than oneself. You can't just reason your way through. You have to have faith, love and hope to bring it all home.
And show me a person who has tamed his heart, I will show you a person who has truly conquered the world. Cheerz.

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