If we listen to Boris, there's no point in training.
Boris Johnson has often shown a spectacular capability for putting his foot in his mouth, but somehow has managed to come out the other side smelling of roses (if limping slightly). But his most recent pronouncements on the benefits of inequality, greed and that IQ tests represent a predictor of success may have caused permanent damage to his lower limbs and, I hope, his ambitions to climb even further up the greasy pole of politics.
For those who missed it, Boris gave the Margaret Thatcher lecture at the Centre for Policy Studies the other day. During his oration he claimed that inequality is vital to building a competitive economy; that greed and envy are positive drivers for business success and that ‘16% of our species have an IQ below 85’ and therefore should not expect to share equally in whatever economic benefits are around. Our species! Really.
It is difficult to know where to start with debunking this claptrap. Let’s start with greed being a positive motivator. Studies by the Oxford Said Business School as long ago as the late 90s found that organisations which were primarily profit focused (the greedy corporations so brilliantly brought to life in the film Wall Street) were significantly less successful when compared with similar businesses in similar industries which were values driven. This assessment of what drives success has been outlined repeatedly since then – in books like Nice Companies Finish First by Peter Shankman (see my review on trainingzone here).
Put simply, those companies which set out to make as much money as possible for their founders and senior teams tend to do less well in all measures. That includes the one they’re really interested in – profitability - when compared to businesses which are striving to make the best products, or to provide excellent service or to be the most innovative. Boris may think ‘Greed is Good’ but actually it is a pretty poor driver for success.
What about his assertion that inequality is inevitable and that some people simply cannot be expected to prosper because they have low IQs? Well, as trainers we should be pretty concerned about that type of comment. For one thing, IQ tests are not a good measure of intelligence, let alone anything else. Research in 2012 involving some 46,000 people showed categorically that IQ tests are a poor way of establishing who is intelligent and who isn’t. (see here)
One of the report’s authors, Director of External Affairs at the National Science Museum , Dr Roger Highfield, said: “For a century or more many people have thought that we can distinguish between people, or indeed populations, based on the idea of general intelligence which is often talked about in terms of a single number: IQ. We have shown here that’s just wrong,”
IQ scores are not a useful predictor of future success – and certainly not when it comes to work and economic performance. If you’ve ever worked with a so-called genius who loudly proclaims their IQ score on a regular basis, you’ll know just how poor a predictor of work place excellence an IQ score can be. What’s more, there’s a really good way of getting better IQ scores. Practice! Yes, like most of the tools used to predict employee performance through tests and psychological instruments, you can get the results you seek by being trained how to do the test and by using the good old methods of practice and feedback.
There is however one predictor of economic success in the UK which is inherited. It is one which Boris knows about only too well. If you look at the people with most economic power they have one innate feature – rich parents. Boys from Eton do well at IQ tests. Because Eton, in common with many public schools, makes a concerted effort to teach them how to successfully complete them. It is one of the benefits of privilege that nothing is left to chance to secure an entrée to the best and most lucrative employment opportunities.
If training is to work in organisations, it needs a meritocracy based on a fundamental belief in equality. Everyone should have opportunities to progress and gain the rewards for their efforts. Otherwise, why bother? If it is to be replaced by Johnson’s sub-Victorian vision of a world where the under-class should know their place and be grateful for whatever meagre benefits eventually fall from the table, then training as we know it is a complete waste of time.
You may have guessed by now that I don’t think of Boris as a cuddly buffoon whose heart is in the right place. But Boris is lucky. He doesn’t need my approval. When he finally takes his foot out of his mouth, the silver spoon will still be firmly embedded.
Robin Hoyle is a writer and consultant working with organisations large and small to implement change through people development. He has a long track record of strategic L&D leadership and materials development and design - working for a wide range of organisations in private, public and voluntary sectors in the UK and throughout the world...