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How Intelligent are Humans? How Clever? How Competent are they at What They Do?

June 2018

What is Intelligence? What is Competence?

Intelligence is simply defined as the ability to aquire and apply knowledge and skills. Competence is a measure of the application of intelligence and the achieved level of success.

Human beings are regarded, by themselves of course, as the highest group in the animal kingdom by virtue of their evolved level of superior intelligence.

Humans, therefore, constantly pass judgement on the intelligence of all living creatures, and particularly eachother, by comparing achievement across an infinite range of activity from simple everyday tasks to the highest levels of commerce, science, medicine, education, sport and the arts, etc. People are judged as showing a level of competence/incompetence in every activity they undertake.

The Pyramid of Competence.

The Pyramid of Competence

I developed this chart to show that across the entire human race, and for every conceivable activity, there exists a vast range of levels of competence. The highest level (green) is depicted as "Genius" and includes the very best in their field. The green area is not to scale as in reality there are very few real geniuses.

The bottom area (red) represents those who range from least competent to totally, even dangerously, incompetent, and contribute little or nothing to any group endeavour, thereby earning them the label "Useless".

The vast majority of people on Earth fall into the middle amber area labeled "Mediocre". This is not intended as an insult. I could just as easily have labelled the area "Normal People" or "Average/ Ordinary People". Rest assured, if you are in the Mediocre area you may not be a genius, but at least you could not be described as "useless"! Take some comfort from that.

This is not a science! The Mediocre amber area is deliberately vague. I make no detailed judgements. For any one activity, you or the people around you, may position you closer to either the top or the bottom of the area and probably would never explain to you their reasons.

Am I a Genius?

Probably not! Sorry! You may have someone, for instance Grandma, telling you and everybody else that you are, but geniuses are VERY rare. The word "genius" is overused. It is sometimes applied to the likes of footballers, who score a few more goals than someone else who kicks a ball about for 50,000 a week, or a singer/songwriter who strikes a particularly profitable chord with impressionable young music lovers, but, believe me, real genius does not come along very often.

Geniuses, Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking

Am I Competent at What I Do?

Many of us are reasonably competent in most of the activities we undertake. Some are more competent than average, some less so. We therefore find ourselves in the amber Mediocre section of the Pyramid of Competence, wondering whether our true position is closer to the top, ie., "very good", or the bottom, meaning "rather poor"!

Throughout the infinite complexity of human endeavour, we can all score differently for contrasting jobs, tasks, activities, etc. For instance a person may say something like, "I think I'm pretty good at making speeches, but I am hopeless at playing cricket!"

Mediocrity is not a problem. In this context it is normal.

Competence can be defined as the ability to accomplish a task, or set of tasks, efficiently and sucessfully, using knowledge, skills and expertise to arrive at a conclusion or results, which embody general improvement, a solution of problems, and the approval of a majority of the people affected.

With the best will in the world, things can go wrong! Unpredictable events can cause difficulties and set-backs. Other people's conflicting knowledge or beliefs, whether right or wrong, can slow down or even halt progress. Everyone can make mistakes!

Homer Simpson's incompetence

An individual's level of competence in any job or activity, whatever its importance, is always judged by others. Whatever you may personally think of your own ability, your actual standing on the ladder of Mediocrity is decided by your boss, colleagues, peers, customers, team-mates, competitors and/or the general public.

As a rule, most of us have a somewhat exaggerated sense of our own importance, ability and competence, as seen by others. We answer criticism with comments like, "You don't know how difficult it is." - "Something went wrong." - "It's not my fault."

Life is more satisfying if you can truly feel appreciated; that you actually make a difference.

Admit your failings and mistakes, particularly to yourself. Vow to improve your performance, analyse it, make adjustments, and MOVE ON! Your standing in the Mediocre section of the Pyramid of Competence will undoubtedly rise to a higher level. Good luck!

Sosumi - June 2018


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