Social smarts

social-media-550766_1280 We hear a lot these days about the importance of social intelligence—loosely defined as "the ability to act wisely in human relations." In business this includes working smartly with team members and customers.

It's a world apart from academic acumen or conventional IQ which, studies show, are poor predictors of success—professional or personal.

I'm sure you know some very bright folks—maybe off-the-charts brilliant—who are dumb as rocks when it comes to dealing with people. Perhaps they have trouble tolerating contrary viewpoints. Or they're ineffective in the persuasive arts. Or they can't communicate without insulting someone. Needless to say, they can be problematic team members. Like young kids who have trouble playing with others.

In my rock & roll days I observed—and sometimes performed with—uber-talented musicians who were clueless about "playing with others." Some individuals managed to survive because of their technical (musical) genius. But bands had a tough time staying together when one or more members were socially obtuse.

I can’t help but imagine how differently the history of rock might have unfolded if John Lennon’s SQ (social intelligence) matched his IQ. He could have brushed off the many perceived slights he interpreted from Paul McCartney (and others) and listened to dissenting views about hiring the unscrupulous Allen Klein to manage the Beatles. The band could have had a longer run, exposing us to many more of their wildly innovative songs and albums.

What if Neil Young and Steven Stills could have put aside their mutual jealousy and refrained from actual fist fights (we’re setting a low bar here) when Buffalo Springfield was shaping up as the top songwriting band in the US, only to splinter apart at their creative peak?

What if Glenn Frey could have worked more collaboratively with his Eagles partners and limited the turmoil and tyranny that drove the best musicians out of the band?

What if Sting could have managed his ego, ended his feud with drummer Stewart Copeland, and continued to front the artistic/commercial juggernaut that was The Police?

A couple of other thoughts…

One way that socially challenged individuals draw attention to their condition is their constant and contemptuous use of the term “politics” to describe the simple art of working with others. Having to gain buy-in for their ideas is something they feel is an unwarranted burden on their freedom.

In previous posts (like here) I've pointed out that creative conflict (or task conflict) between team members in business or band mates in rock & roll is a wonderful thing. But personal conflict (or relationship conflict) is a different animal. I witnessed this first-hand in the sunset days of Cream as I saw Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker barely speak to each other on their last tour, leaving Eric Clapton to play mediator (not his primary or preferred talent).

Much of the thinking on social intelligence has evolved from the work of psychologist Howard Gardner at the Harvard School of Education on “multiple intelligences,” including interpersonal intelligence. As he describes it: “Interpersonal intelligence is the ability to understand other people: what motivates them; how they work; how to work cooperatively with them.”

Psychologist Daniel Goleman took it a step further with his best-selling book, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, which put the subject on the map for educators, psychologists, and business leaders to endlessly debate.


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8 Comments

  1. When I had a band, and as long as I've had businesses, I've chosen EQ over IQ any time there was a choice to be made.

    I knew to do this because I grew up with a high IQ and a zero EQ and nobody would play with me. This, when you turn 30, is a real life challenge, having nobody to play with.

    1. I can imagine. And society is trending in that direction. "Bowling Alone" and all that. I'm a loner, but I think it's by choice.

      Howard Gardner also talked about "musical intelligence." You obviously have a high MQ.

      I was just reading that some autistic children have abnormally high musical intelligence, especially regarding tone recognition.

      Of course, I'm not inferring a causal relationship between the last two sentences.

      1. I remember the first time I heard Bruce Hornsby had a musical degree. "You can get a degree in music? Why did no one tell me?"

        With any form of intelligence (and we all probably think the wrong thing about that word) you can draw a neat bell curve with an almost completely coincidental EQ curve. Hit the heights in one intelligence, plumb the depths in the others, like EQ.

        It's why true polymaths are so rare and remarkable.

    1. Ha. I knew someone would call me on that. I think Don Felder was a more versatile guitarist and Bernie Leadon was a ridiculously talented multi-instrumentalist. (Randy Meisner was no slacker either.) But I may not be giving Joe Walsh his due.

      1. I agree with you on that one, John.
        Walsh is a reliable but average musician. His better talent is that he's a real character, and as such, may have been more tolerant of (and tolerable to) Frey. Joe's brother-in-law, Mr. Starkey, is like that, too. Both are very affable and non-threatening individuals, to the others in their respective bands who might be more tightly-wound.

        Egos have always been enormous in top-shelf acts, and may be required just to survive at that level. Like you said, those people expect others to see their superior assets and just follow. "Deal with it."

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