Taylor: What’s your ‘complexity quotient?’

How we handle complex matters may show true intelligence.

Everyone knows that intelligence is not uniform. Some people have stratospheric IQs; others sink below par.

Everyone also knows that intelligence doesn’t necessarily correspond to ability to think. Mensa members can be just as dogmatically fossilized as Homer Simpson. They may know far more about far more things, but they can lock onto their conclusions like a crocodile’s jaws.

For a short period, during my journalistic career, I did occasional interviews with an Anglican priest named Brian Freeland—then head of religious programming for the CBC. I always came away feeling that I had been allowed to peer into a bewildering whirlwind of ideas.

I went looking for answers; I came away with more questions.

Back in the late 1960s, my friend Don Sawatzky attempted to measure the complexity of human thinking. At the time, Don was developing his doctoral dissertation; he would go on to become a widely respected professor of psychology at the University of Alberta.

“Traditional measures of IQ are simply predictors of success in school,” Don explained. “It is questionable whether this generalizes to success in life.”

No one else had explored this field. So Don had to develop his own testing methods and procedures, using students and volunteers.

Don identified three components of complexity.

First, the number of dimensions considered. Some people focus on very few dimensions—as if issues could be reduced to black/white, male/female, left/right. Others incorporate multiple dimensions into their analysis.

Second, discrimination among those dimensions. Which dimensions matter more? Which ones take priority over others? To use a trivial example, the colour of a witness’s gloves should not invalidate the accuracy of her observations. An inability to discriminate between relative values reduces complexity to chaos.

Finally, integration of information. How well can the person discern a coherent pattern within the complexity?

In a sense, it’s a circular process.

First you must first be willing to make the process more complicated, by adding extra factors to assess. Then you filter out the less important factors. Finally, you integrate the significant factors into a unified vision.

Which may, in fact, be the same as the one that a single-dimensional thinker came up with. Or it may not. Either way, though, it’s better founded.

Don Sawatzky called it “conceptual complexity.”

There were some surprises in his research. Rural students tended to see more dimensions than urban students, for example. Don hypothesized that rural students were accustomed to seeing people in a variety of roles—storekeeper, hockey coach, town councillor—where urban students might encounter each person in only one role.

Looking back, Don says, “In retrospect, I wish I had pursued this research—but life got in the way!”

I too wish he had pursued the subject. Or someone had.

Most of us, I suspect, intuitively develop some kind of complexity assessment. But it can take years to realize that this person leaps to conclusions; that one bogs down in details. This one can’t break free from lessons learned in Sunday School; that one rejects anything tainted by religious beliefs.

I’d love to know a person’s “Complexity Quotient” to know how much credence to give their opinions.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Unplug and Play Literacy Week returns in late January

The event sponsored by Interior Savings encourages everyone young and old to unplug from screentime

Kelowna’s Tess Critchlow gears up for World Cup at Big White

Critchlow is a professional snowboarder competing for Team Canada in the boardercross competition

Rockets stunned in 7-0 loss to Portland

Portland’s goaltender Dante Gianuzzi was named the game’s first star with a 17-save shutout

Kelowna secondary basketballer nominated for Canada-wide All Canadian Games

KSS’s Rylee Semeniuk is one of 152 players nominated

B.C. VIEWS: Few clouds on Horgan’s horizon

Horgan’s biggest challenge in the remainder of his term will be to keep the economy humming along

Victoria family focuses on ‘letting go, enjoying time together’ after dad gets dementia

Walter Strauss has developed an interest in music and now takes line dancing classes

B.C. forest industry grasps for hope amid seven-month strike, shutdowns, changes

Some experts say this could be worse for forestry than the 2008 financial crisis

Northern B.C. RCMP investigating alleged sexual assault in downtown Smithers

One person was transported by ambulance to hospital following RCMP investigation at Sedaz

UBC, Iranian-Canadian community create memorial scholarship in honour of victims

The Jan. 8 crash killed 176 people, including 57 Canadians

Disrespectful that Horgan won’t meet during northern B.C. tour: hereditary chief

Na’moks said he was frustrated Horgan didn’t meet with the chiefs

Update: Highway reopens after crash west of Revelstoke

Drive BC also reported a vehicle incident 10 km east of Golden.

Most Read