Critics and Creatives

1 09 2011

Howard Gardner identified nine types of intelligence: logical, linguistic, spatial, musical, kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, naturalist and existential.

While intelligence tests generally only measure linguistic and logical intelligences, other types of intelligence are equally important. Think of Sheldon Cooper from Big Bang Theory – clearly highly logical and linguistic – but significantly lacking in interpersonal and intrapersonal. (I recognise that this character is presumably supposed to have high-functioning Aspergers. However he is too good an example to ignore!)

None of these intelligences, however, covers the ability to criticise. A good critic might use a dose of logic in analysing and constructing their arguments – but this doesn’t account for those for whom criticism is their entire focus.

You may have met these people. Their talent is to tear down the achievements of others. They pick, pick, pick away, seeking to find fault, inconsistencies, something they can exploit to use to pull down the focus of their attention. We sometimes see it in Tall Poppy syndrome – but most of us go on with our lives. These people live it all the time.

They may even manage to get themselves into jobs where their criticism and destructiveness is rewarded – think political advisers whose job is to destroy the opposition’s proposals.

Now it is important to have checks and balances – to be able to withstand scrutiny. My issues is not with those people who do a fair and balanced job. My issues is with the critics who see their job as to be destructive – or whatever else they might call it – controversial, provocative.

Criticism is not an intelligence – but it is a way of thinking.

De Bono identified six types of thinking. The so-called “Black Hat” represented Bad points judgment – logic applied to identifying flaws or barriers, seeking mismatch. De Bono’s point was however that as fully rounded and well-functioning human beings we needed to use all of the aspects of thinking – all six hats: Information, Emotion, Good Points Judgement, Creativity and Thinking.

The reason this came to mind is that I recently saw someone who strongly used their “bad points judgement” – their ability to criticise – to move into a leadership role. Their ability to criticise and find fault in the achievements and performances of others was mistaken for the ability to do better themselves.

Will she perform better than her predecessor? That remains to be seen. But she will need to start using some of the other hats, and hopefully can tap into some of the intelligences. It’s hard to engage a team and lead them if all you can see and all you communicate is the negatives. For now, she is still getting by on criticism of her predecessor – easy pickings when they aren’t there to defend themselves or to point out the good things they did as well. But eventually she will have to be accountable for what is happening – or not happening.

Tearing down the achievements of others is not the same as being able to do it yourself. Achieving for yourself takes guts and creativity.

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