Daniel Goleman: It’s Not IQ Part 2: Use the Triple Focus Approach to Education

Don’t tell the kids – or maybe we should.

There’s no doubt that IQ and motivation predict good grades. But when you enter the working world, IQ plays a different role: it sorts people into the jobs they can hold. Stellar work in school pays off in getting intellectually challenging jobs.

But once you are in a given job – say a manager – you are competing with people as smart as you. That’s when IQ loses its power to predict success, which starts to depend more on “non-cognitive” factors like persistence in pursuing your goals or social intelligence.

That paradox about IQ and success came as a revelation to me when I started to examine competence models, the studies done by companies themselves to identify the abilities that set their star performers apart from the average ones. Purely cognitive skills, like IQ or mastery of programming, say, matter less and less for outstanding performance the higher you go in the organization.

The take-home from competence models for K-12 education is a bit surprising: academic abilities, including expertise in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) subjects, are “threshold” competencies, which help you qualify and keep a given job.

Why? Once you are in a job, most everyone at your level has more or less the same cognitive power. But some may be more confident, more disciplined, more empathic, more socially adept (e.g., a persuasive team member) or all of these. Those are the kinds of competencies that organizations find distinguish star performers from average.

So let’s reverse engineer competence models to see what we should be including in education for our kids. All the academic subjects stay: these are the baseline abilities everyone needs. But in addition, there are three major abilities kids need for success at work and in life.

Think of it as the Triple Focus.

1. Focus on yourself. This means self-awareness, which shows up on competence models in such abilities as realistic confidence, and self-management: staying cool under pressure, striving toward your goals despite setbacks, and self-motivation, among others.

The underlying neural ability here is “cognitive control,” which a 30-plus year follow up of school kids found predicted their adult financial success better than did their IQ or their parents’ socioeconomic standing.

2. Focus on others. This talent for empathy, communication, persuasion, and teamwork is crucial to the competencies of star performers.

3. Focus on systems. This allows understanding the dynamics of an organization, an economy, an industry or technology – and lets leaders come up with a vision. Kids also love to learn how the systems lens applies to their own interactions and to their families and schools.

So why don’t we teach kids the skills they will need to thrive in life?

Learn more about cultivating these abilities in the classroom with my new book with Peter Senge – The Triple Focus: A New Approach to Education.You can download the ebook here.

You can also listen to my conversation with Peter about adopting systems thinking into your organization in Leading the Necessary Revolution.

Additional Focus-related resources:

Focus for Kids: Enhancing Concentration, Caring and Calm

Focus for Teens: Enhancing Concentration, Caring and Calm

Focus posters for the classroom

Image: Bryant Paul Johnson