Instinctive Intelligence vs. Analytical Intelligence


When I think about intelligence, I remember a Mathematics Professor at my graduate school. If you listened to him speak or teach, you would come away with a very negative opinion of this Professor’s intelligence. He was incoherent, he jumbled his words, he made mistakes. I remember a class in which he was confused by a simple algebra problem, so simple that every student in the class knew how to solve it.  

But, every student in the class also knew of the important Theorems he had discovered (or invented, depending upon your faith). We had read his research papers. But none of us could match the obvious confusion of his mind in class with the depth of the great research he had done. Logical thinking was not this Professor’s forte. When he published his theorems, his proofs were usually wrong. A European mathematician built a career by reproving the theorems this Professor had proved.

This is the best example of pure Instinctive Intelligence I know. Somewhere in the deep recesses of his mind, simple but brilliant ideas developed. How and why is a subject for brain theorists. But the reality is that this obviously inarticulate man, a man given to public displays of illogic & confusion, did create brilliant results in Mathematics. 

One of his initials was W. Professor W was lucky. Ideas in Mathematics can be proved or disproved. For example, if you’re working with eigenvalues and algebra, it’s a simple answer. It’s either correct or incorrect. Professor W’s ideas were proved by others to be correct and he received accolades for his work.

Another W was not so lucky.  Yes, I mean President W. This President was treated mercilessly by the media and by the literati. When they felt compassionate, they merely called him dumb. No need to rehash the other adjectives thrown at President Bush. Yet, this man came up with simple but brilliant ideas that actually worked in the world. 

  • Reorientation of America – President W turned the focus of America away from Europe and towards the Emerging World. He instinctively realized that Europe was fading in importance and the older, larger countries of Asia & Latin America were destined to become great powers again. President Bush reoriented America towards this reemergence. Europe did not forgive him for this and European trained American media derided him for being isolationist.  

  • The US-India Partnership – Mr. Bush had no special love for India or its culture. He instinctively realized that China & India were going to become prosperous and powerful. Bush simply felt that India was the better long term partner for America and he implemented his conclusion. People like Nick Burns believe that Bush’s America-India partnership will come to be regarded as important as Nixon’s trip to China.

  • Iraq – President W was reviled during the surge debate in 2006. He had the courage of his instinctive convictions and he implemented the surge. Iraq is now a success. Bush hated Saddam Hussein personally, I am convinced. But there was a lot more to Iraq than personal vengeance. Bush began with a simple idea that the Middle East needed democracy, contrary to established racist opinion of most American pandits. Iraq was as secular a society as you could find in the Middle East. It was central. A modern state in Iraq could conceivably be a catalyst for secular change in the Middle East. Tom Friedman of the New York Times recently quoted an editor in Beirut  praising Bush for his brilliant simplicity.

Close your eyes and try to remember the public appearances of President Bush. Then try to reconcile his inarticulate speeches with the path breaking nature of his ideas and accomplishments. When you do that, you would realize what I mean by Instinctive Intelligence.

Unlike Mathematics, strategic ideas cannot be proved or disproved. So, unlike Professor W, President W never received accolades or even basic recognition for his visionary accomplishments. 

Unlike Instinctive Intelligence, Analytical Intelligence needs no explanation. We see it everyday. This intelligence comes across vividly in articulate speeches delivered flawlessly. Analytically Intelligent people tend to impress others. They go to elite schools. They get great grades. They tend to get hired by elite firms and make a great deal of money. 

Recently, a highly paid Wall Street Analyst upgraded X, the stock of US Steel, from a Sell to a Hold. This same analyst had rated X as a Sell when the stock was at $25. He upgraded it to a Hold at $48 because the fundamental condition of X had improved substantially. If X goes to $70, I have no doubt that this intelligent analyst would then upgrade X to a Buy or even a Strong Buy. Because, analytically, he could show that the fundamentals of X had become very strong.

This is Analytical Intelligence in its most evident form. The data is accurate, the logic is impeccable and the presentation is convincing. Unfortunately, the result, as any individual investor knows, is destructive to his or her portfolio.

The media is another haven for the Analytically Intelligent. TV Anchors and Talk Show hosts celebrated the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Then, at the bottom of the Iraq crisis, TV Anchors rallied against the Iraq Adventure and almost unanimously called for withdrawal from Iraq.  Now, they ignore the  topic.

I am concerned that President Obama is revealing himself to be Analytically Intelligent rather than Instinctively Intelligent. Like our above not-so-favorite Wall Street Analyst , President Obama was sure about Afghanistan in March when he announced his strategy. Things were going relatively well at that time. Today, Afghanistan is on the edge and his own chosen General is asking for a decisive and fast step. But, President Obama’s seems unsure. Now he is studying all his options. So Afghanistan was a Buy in March and now in October it is a Hold. Will it be a Sell next year?

Analytical Intelligence always vacillates when the going get tough. Instinctive Intelligence gets more decisive when the going gets tough. This is why Instinctive Intelligent leaders like Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Indira Gandhi tend to win major battles while Analytical Intelligent leaders like Jimmy Carter and Neville Chamberlain fail in crisis. 

We see many signs of Analytical Intelligence in President Obama. His ideas are grandiose and complexly brilliant. His delivery is superb. But his ideas fail the test of simplicity and they seem nearly impossible to implement. President Obama tends to be freewheeling when creating ideas and very cautious in implementing them. Above all, he gets less certain and indecisive when the going gets tough.

I hope this is simply a maturing phase for President Obama and that he will emerge from this as a strong, Instinctive leader. After all, a leader can be both Analytically Intelligent and Instinctively Intelligent. The man I have in mind liked being called Bubba and enjoyed stuffing his mouth in public with a Big Mac.  

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