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Practical Intelligence
The Art and Science of Common Sense

By Karl Albrecht

Business Book SummariesSummary by Lydia Morris Brown, Business Book Summaries

Determining that IQ, as a singular measure of competence, could no longer be supported, Harvard professor, Howard Gardner, proposed (in Frames of Mind, 1985) a range of key competencies, which he calls multiple intelligence (MI). Daniel Goleman's Emotional Intelligence (1995) popularized Gardner's notion and instigated widespread interest in the developmental possibilities of the MI model.

In 2005's Social Intelligence, Karl Albrecht explored "Social Intelligence" (SI), a dimension of MI, which he defined as both the ability to get along with others and a set of practical skills for interacting successfully in any setting. A year later, Goleman followed suit with his own treatment of the subject.

With the steadily growing acceptance of the idea of MI, and the popularity of Emotional Intelligence and Social Intelligence, Albrecht believes the next category to explore would seem to be "Practical Intelligence—the mental ability to cope with the challenges and opportunities of life" (i.e., the art and science of common sense).

His Practical Intelligence explains how the notion of PI, which is based on the principle that thinking is a bodily function, qualifies as one of the essential life skills, incorporating a wide range of mental processes, capabilities, and habits for coping with life's challenges and opportunities. It offers a conceptual framework for defining and describing it, and outlines how to develop the skills to think more clearly and effectively while helping others upgrade their own mental abilities.

Albrecht demonstrates that when people understand that thinking is a whole-body event, they can begin to upgrade their mental flexibility, affirmative thinking, semantic sanity, and idea valuing (i.e., their mental software). These key aspects of the way individuals process information profoundly influence almost all their other mental processes and enable them to put their natural range of mental skills to effective use.

Once individuals begin to realize the need to improve these upgrades, continually, they can understand better how to make good use of the four "mega-skills": the range of divergent and convergent thinking, abstract and concrete thinking, logical and intuitive thinking, and rational and emotive thinking. Albrecht positions them as polarities—contrasting mental processes that complement each other—with both alternatives to be used to the fullest.

Thus, Practical Intelligence speaks to Albert Einstein's observation: "No problem can be solved from the same consciousness that created it. We must learn to see the world anew." And, it demonstrates that "human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives" (William James, pioneer of modern psychology).

Ultimately, however, Albrecht has an even loftier motive—that PI, as he defines and explores it, could serve as a unifying concept around which to structure the discussion of what some are calling the American restoration agenda. This agenda is a set of priorities for bringing back some key values, traditions, and institutions that many feel have been lost in the "dumbing-down" of the American culture. Given this objective, the book is especially offered to those who can promote the teaching, application, and appreciation of common sense in our culture. Its explanation of how PI qualifies as one of the central life skills can help:

  • parents teach their children how to use their minds more effectively everyday;
  • teachers and educators change the focus of education from teaching students what to think to teaching them how to think;
  • mental health professionals learn to view human adjustment through the prism of practical mental competence;
  • executives, managers, and business consultants learn the importance of making organizational intelligence, both individual and collective, a high priority;
  • political leaders raise the level of discourse needed to encourage schools to implement the teaching of common sense concepts and skills;
  • media personalities provide the leadership needed to raise the level of discourse in the popular media, renouncing the practices that pander to fear, ignorance, and bigotry.

And, of course, the book can help these influencers educate themselves about PI and upgrade their own PI skills.

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