IQ distributions are a bell curve: there are very few people at the low (retarded) end of intelligence, and there are very few at the high (genius) end of intelligence. Most of us are bunched in the middle. The distribution is much the same as a distribution of humans' heights: Tom Cruise is below average in height and Yao Ming is above average. (But Tom Cruise is closer to the average than Ming.) Some companies, notably Microsoft and Google, which were each founded by unusually gifted people, have become known as a culture in which IQ, and its correlative value, the prestige of the undergraduate institution one attended (but did not necessarily graduate) are large determinants in job applicants being hired. Doc Searls, the editor of the online Linux Journal, bemoans this state of affairs: A friend who worked at Microsoft once told me he could describe his employer in two words: more school. He explained that the company is built by and for academic achievers like the two guys who founded the company. I read recently that Microsoft's two founders, Paul Allen and Bill gates, had SAT scores of 1600 and 1590, respectively--back when scoring was much tougher than it is today. My friend noted that Microsoft executives "can't go two paragraphs without using the word 'smart'." He asked, "Are there any other companies that want to know your SAT scores? Your GPA? Or that grade you on a curve?" He also said Microsoft was the first company to call its facility a "campus". Not sure if that's true, but it's plausible enough to make his point. I can save Microsoft a pile of time and money by reporting a fact no school wants to admit, one that will flatten the world far more than any other factor: pretty much everybody is smart. What's more, they're all smart in their own ways. Meaning that the sources of innovation in China are a lot higher than 1,300 out of 1.3 billion. Microsoft isn't unusual in the premium it places on school performance and school-type measures of human capacity. We've all been doing that ever since the Industrial Revolution, when modern school systems began. If we want to break free of big company silos and big company thinking, we need to break free of our equally industrial notions about schooling, which are based on the belief that talent and intelligence are rare. Businessweek's new blog, Blogspotting, summarizes Searls' argument: Catching up on blog reading, I came across this recent piece in Linux Journal. Here Doc Searls upbraids Microsoft for focusing too much on a very narrow definition of intelligence, and giving far too much weight to IQ. In the tech world that I'm seeing, the keys to innovation include: * curiosity * knowledge of other cultures * readiness to cross into different disciplines * good communications skills * mastery over at least one specialty Hire someone who has those five covered, and you won't have to worry about IQ. There's probably some truth to this idea--most business functions, and most jobs--can be done by people of average or above-average intelligence. And, at root, an employer's chief concern is whether a person can do the job for which he is applying. But employers also need to feel that they are applying some sort of filter or standard on applicants: if a high school graduate can code as well as a current employee, who has a Master's degree in Computer Science from Stanford, what does that say about the utility of a degree from one of the world's elite universitites? Corporate cultures, therefore, have an incentive to inculcate a sense of intellectual superiority: if I can do the same work as someone with more degrees than me, then that fact implicitly devalues the value and utility of the degrees. Searls is writing from the perspective of the anarchic world of open-source coding: any person can contribute to the code, at any time, regardless of qualification. While this process, and this way of collaborative work, works well for the task in which he's involved, corporations are necessarily much more structured than any open-source environment. It's doubtful that the repudiation of "official" measures of intelligence, or intellectual pedigree, to which Searls aspires, can be accomplished, precisely because running a corporation is an exercise in risk management. Employers want some insurance that the people they hire are competent. What other filter do we have other than IQ tests, SAT scores, or colleges attended, to attest to one's competence? These are imperfect criteria, to be sure. A genius, such as Bill Gates, or Albert Einstein, likely would not be a successful employee at most companies, precisely because they are so smart, and so much more visionary than even most very bright people, that they would quickly become bored. Boredom, and aloofness, are the death knell of anyone trying to make it in a corporate hierarchy. The trick, of course, is that those that propose we end corproate hierarchies, such as the open-source movement advocates, conveniently ignore that corporations exist to collectivize human labor (whether manual or intellectual), and corporations need to be managed in order to avoid a devolution into chaos. Searls describes a utopian vision, in which academic pedigrees, and related qualifications and certifications are rightly consigned to the anachronistic times from which they first sprouted. But he offers no real alternative that a corporation can use in its hiring. A company's first interest, after all, is that the work be done. In order for the work to be done, one who can do the work must be hired. Companies waste billions hiring the wrong person, then removing them, and installing another person in his place. Companies, well aware of the high costs incurred in hiring someone who either cannot do the job well, or who does not fit into the culture, do everything they can to mitigate those risks. While Searls is probably correct that IQ should be an irrelevant consideration in companies' hiring practices, such filters persist primarily because no better alternatives are available, and companies would be remiss in not trying to adduce who is qualified to do a certain job, and who is not. In the absence of other filtering criteria, Searls' argument is merely a utopian one. It's a good argument, but it is still utopian.