in: Advice, Character, Podcast

• Last updated: September 27, 2021

Art of Manliness Podcast Episode #57: Ungifted With Scott Barry Kaufman

What does it mean to be “gifted”?

Is it talent? Creativity? Intelligence? A mixture of all three?

Is giftedness something you’re born with or can you nurture it?

Is it possible to measure and predict giftedness?

Our guest today, Dr. Scott Barry Kaufman, has tackled all these questions in his most recent book Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined. Scott is a cognitive psychologist who specializes in creativity and intelligence. Besides writing books and scholarly articles on the intersection of creativity and intelligence, Scott is a co-founder of The Creativity Post, a blog dedicated to exploring the science behind creativity and imagination.

In today’s episode, Scott and I talk about intelligence, talent, and giftedness. I think if you’re a dad, this show will have a lot of food for thought for you on how to raise your kids to be their best.

Ungifted intelligence redefined book by Scott Barry Kaufman, book cover.

Show Highlights:

  • Scott’s story of how he was labeled ungifted as a child but ended up graduating from Carnegie Mellon, doing at fellowship at Cambridge, getting his PhD from Yale, and doing groundbreaking research on intelligence as an adult
  • What’s wrong with the way we view intelligence in America
  • The history of IQ testing in America
  • Are IQ tests even useful?
  • How being labeled gifted or ungifted as a child can affect the rest of your life
  • What dads can do to help their children achieve greatness
  • Why it’s never too late to achieve greatness in your own life
  • And much more!

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Read the Transcript

Brett McKay: All right, here’s a question for you guys. What does it mean to be gifted? Right, you probably if you’re like most people in America or in the West, you probably took some test when you were in elementary school that was used to determine whether you were a gifted student. But what exactly was that test measuring, and second I mean is that test really useful in determining you know the future performance of a child well into adulthood? Well, our guest yesterday has been studying this for most of his career. His name is Doctor Scott Barry Kaufman, he’s a cognitive psychologist and his most recent book is called Ungifted Intelligence Redefined and he takes a look at sort of America’s in particular obsession with determining whether a child is gifted or whether an adult is gifted and our obsession with IQ exams and you know he looks at what exactly we’re measuring when we’re taking IQ exams. And he also challenges the idea that you know we shouldn’t just use IQ exams to determine the future prospects of a child especially. It’s a fascinating book, it’s particularly interesting if you’re a dad because you might have kids who are in that, who are taking those tests that you took when you were a kid and whether they get into the gifted program or stick with the average kids that can have a profound effect on the rest of their life. So we discuss all this in the podcast. It’s a really interesting one, so stay tuned. And Scott Barry Kaufman welcome back to the Art of Manliness podcast.

Scott Kaufman: Thanks, Brett.

Brett McKay: I actually think you’re the first, like repeat guest we’ve had.

Scott Kaufman: On two very different topics.

Brett McKay: On two very different topics. Yeah, for those of you, we had Scott on the show like last year, early last year with Glenn Geher?

Scott Kaufman: Yeah, that’s right.

Brett McKay: Wrote Mating Intelligence, they co-authored a book called meeting intelligence about how to, like what research says about what people find attractive in one another. Fascinating book, fascinating podcast, recommend you check it out, but today we’re going to not talk about love and sex, we’re going to be talking about intelligence, not just mating intelligence, like intelligence like IQ stuff. So Scott Kaufman you.

Scott Kaufman: That’s the question though yeah.

Brett McKay: That’s the question though.

Scott Kaufman: What is intelligence?

Brett McKay: What is intelligence? So, yeah, got your book is Ungifted, and the subtitle is Redefining Intelligence.

Scott Kaufman: But yet the book itself is ungifted?

Brett McKay: Yeah, it was a horrible book.

Scott Kaufman: That’s the title, title of the book.

Brett McKay: Yeah, title of the book, ungifted, subtitle.

Scott Kaufman: Maybe the book isn’t gifted, I guess that’s for you to judge.

Brett McKay: No, no, it was a great book.

Scott Kaufman: Cool.

Brett McKay: So you take on this idea of intelligence, what it is, how we measure it. It’s very comprehensive, but I want to start off talking about your personal history because you enter, you know you put that in, you inject that into that into the book throughout right and basically your personal history seems like it’s is a lot of it’s with the impetus and what inspired the book, and sort of your research and intelligence. But we’ll will start off like your, you have just an extremely impressive resume. Graduated from Carnegie Mellon, fellowship at the University of Cambridge, PhD from Yale, you’ve taught at NYU. You‘ve written, you know you started a successful website called The Creativity post, published several books, and what’s crazy too guys is that he’s only thirty four years old. So he’s done all this in a short amount of time, not a short on time but just like very early in his life. But what’s funny is you talked about in your book is if someone looked at you when you are out in elementary school or middle school or high school they would probably would say no, Scott’s not going to do any of that stuff, he’ll at best now be working some sort of mindless corporate job, at worst may be working in retail. Can you talk a bit about your childhood and adolescence in terms of schooling?

Scott Kaufman: Sure that’s exactly right I would go so far to say that even if you even if you still measure me by traditional metrics, you would not be able to predict what I’m actually doing. So that’s the paradox of I’ve been kind of spending my whole life trying to solve. My early childhood I had a lot of ear infections, the first couple of years in my life and I developed a learning disability called central auditory processing disorder, which made it very hard for me to process auditory information input in real-time . I mean I would just kind of zone out and then daydream in the classroom and because it was hard for me to keep up to the auditory lectures. And, of course you know from the outside it looks like I was dumb, it looks like I was not understanding anything. It was just very hard for me to it to process it in real-time and I eventually outgrew or maybe you know maybe you never really outgrow these things, and I don’t even, how do you tell anymore you know, but I compensated so much for these things that by 6th grade I think that I was yearning for more intellectual challenges but I was still in Special Education and they wouldn’t let me take more course, challenging courses that I wanted to take and really a lot of my early childhood I had to kind of fight to display to people was I capable of. And that was a lot of my early childhood.

Brett McKay: So how did you make that leap from being put in special Ed and being seen as you’re on the slow track to doing all this impressive stuff, was there a moment that like sort of things sort of shifted for you, or someone saw like an adult saw hey this person, this guy’s, this kids got potential. How did things shift for you?

Scott Kaufman: Yeah, I don’t know if they saw potential, but they saw my frustration. There was one, there was a teacher in 9th grade. I was kept in special education all the way up to ninth grade, and I had a keen mind you know, I had a lot of catching up to do once I eventually left special education. But I was sitting there in the ninth grade, and a teacher who had not been there prior to that day, I guess she was covering for the regular teacher, she saw that I was like so fully frustrated, I was like looking out of the classroom across the hall of the biology class they wouldn’t let me take, and I was supposed to be taking an untimed history test, and I clearly wasn’t paying too much attention to it. You know she’s like what’s going on, I was like well I have the rest of my life to take this test if it’s untimed, so what does it matter? And she really, she took me aside and she after class outside the class she said well look why are you still here? Have you thought about, you know taking a, trying it out, gifted, without or not gifted, without special education. And I was like wow, like no one’s ever like questioned. No, I mean it’s something I intuitively wanted, but you know, we spend a lot of time in our youth accepting authority right, accepting you kind of like the judgment of others, and this was really a pivotal moment in my life, she really caused me to question whether or not I was capable of more, that I truly felt as though I was capable of more but kind of again empowered me to take a stand. And I didn’t report to special education, I didn’t report back and they let me out on a “trial basis,” But I went from like a C/D student to straight A student, and you know it’s amazing the power of having something to prove. That can be a great motivating force in itself and I was just like so determined to prove that I was, could do something that someone would describe as intelligent. I tried all sorts of identities, I did all sorts of stuff. My grandfather was a famous cellist and he was retired and I was like will you teach me how to play Cello, gramps, and he taught me and I joined the school orchestra. I did the choir, I did plays, I became a Latin scholar. I tried lots of identities. I’m not going to say I was good at all these identities I tried but an exciting thing is I was just given that freedom to try different identities which I didn’t have that freedom prior to that moment.

Brett McKay: Interesting. Now it’s funny as I was reading that like I related to that quite a, and I’m sure there’s a lot of people who read this and like I relate to that. You know why I wasn’t like placed in special Ed. I was just sort of like on the average track right, because of the standardized test you take, you know the Iowa Test of Basic Skills or whatever, and I remember being really frustrated because I had friends who got to go to like in Richmond Iowa right, and the got to like, that got to do cool stuff like learn about Greek architecture and I was like stuck like, like color you know, color by number stuff and I remember like just being so frustrated that I would go home and research this stuff on my own because I wanted to like, I wanted that experience, but because you know this test as I wasn’t ready for it, I was denied that. And it wasn’t until middle school that I had an English teacher who said, you know, I think you should be like on the honors track. And it’s like if it’s weren’t for her like I would, because of that lady I was seen as the honor student now, every class I got I was honors and thinks just really went up for me after that. But it was just like now this is the reason I was completely frustrated that I couldn’t do this stuff because a test that I couldn’t.

Brett McKay: That’s right.

Scott Kaufman: We spend so much more time limiting children than offering them opportunities, that’s it came so clear to me in my childhood and I don’t think we’re that far unchanged today.

Brett McKay: Yeah okay so based on your personal experience as well as your own research as well as you know just years of research on the topic. You make the argument in your book ungifted that how we define intelligence isn’t very useful, and that we need to redefine it. So what’s wrong with how we typically look at intelligence?

Scott Kaufman: Yeah, it’s a good question, and I think a lot, you know even since this book has come up my ideas have not changed, but have more often nuanced more ways, nuanced ways, but the thing that I think that I wanted to emphasize on ungifted I’m not trying to distort the idea of intelligence out, you know and completely redefine it in my own way so that like I come out on top. You know it’s not like a personal vendetta like I define intelligence by the ability to do whatever Scott Barry Kaufman good at you know. What I’m trying to really do is change the way we assess it or judge it. First of all, I would like to stop judging people’s intelligence at any one moment in time, but if we absolutely must, what I argue in the book is that there is two conditions I think had can be met at a minimum. So I don’t think just administering an IQ test, in a two-hour snapshot into a person’s ability to come up on the spot, come up with problem solving in a very decontextualized, impersonal way that’s not at all interesting to the test-taker. I think at the very least, if you really want to judge what’s someone’s capable of intellectually, you have to one activate them or make sure that they’re activated or make sure that they’re engaged in what they’re doing. This is something that interests them. You have their attention, their full attention, their full brainpower and second of all you need to give them a heck of a lot more than two hours this to display it. You know you need an extended period of acquiring expertise, acquired mastery and really cultivating a deep learning process. I think that it’s a very superficial narrow way of judging someone’s intelligence in a two hour decontextualized testing section. So that that’s the major point I wanted to make, but I actually I don’t think we need to distort the idea, I think intelligence intuitively means something to people and I think it’s not so bad trying to just completely no intelligence means something complete different than you ever thought it meant. I don’t know I think it’s the best strategy moving forward. I think we can think of intelligence as sort of the capacity are on the ability to learn, to have knowledge, to acquire the ability to acquire knowledge. You know these are the things we truly think of as intelligence but I think that that’s so many more people are capable of displaying those capacities, those abilities, in much more extraordinary ways than we give them credit. Does that make sense?

Brett McKay: That makes sense, and that kind of leads me to my next question, it’s about the history of IQ testing in the West, because I see you devote a lot of the book to that and part of the problem what I gather is the problem with how we look at intelligence is the way we test for it?

Scott Kaufman: That’s my major beef, yeah.

Brett McKay: Yeah, and it’s with IQ testing like it’s just a really fascinating history how IQ tests, how they got their start and how they become some of almost this, it’s almost like they be treated like astrology, like you could take this test and it’s like this is going to define you and predict how you’re going to do in life for the rest of your life. But you know are IQ tests really that useful, and like what exactly are IQ tests measuring? I found that very interesting like you know what are we measuring when we take an IQ test?

Scott Kaufman: It’s a great question and I’ve been, you know part of my scientific research in the past ten years has really trying to understand what exactly is IQ measuring, these tests measuring. I really want to pinpoint narrow down exactly and cut up the limits around it. And what I basically come to conclusion is that they are measuring a set of intellectual functions that are things that we would reasonably want to consider in the intellectual domain of things like memory, right. I mean as you grow older you have to admit memory that your memory declines right. You can’t be in denial about reality like this is something that is important for our lives, you know short-term memory. Working memory, your ability to simultaneously hold to on various things in your head and processes, trying to integrate them to come up with a, make an inference, right. That the hallmark of reasoning, human reasoning on the spot requires that a working memory capacity to be able to synthesize things. Your ability to vocabulary, you know what is your vocabulary? What is your reading comprehension? Can you read things quickly and then understand the gist of what you’re reading and –.so all these cognitive functions are I think we can admit belong in the domain of intellectual functioning, but I think that the problem is that when we use these tests to judge what’s someone’s capable of achieving intellectually or what there are, we use it as a measure of potential. That’s where I see the problem coming.

So Alan Kaufman, I’m not related to the, but we have the same last name, and 1979, the same year I was born, again probably pure coincidence, wrote this seminal book that I feel has been grossly underappreciated called Intelligent Testing, not Intelligence Testing, but Intelligent Testing. And he was a student of David Wechsler you know who created the Wechsler tests of intelligence and he argued that we need to use this tests, we can use these tests as a tool to understand the students patterns of cognitive strengths and weaknesses you know, or the student clearly is a much better reasoner when it comes to spatial information and verbal information, and much better at verbal analogies and other things more than short memory, things of that nature.

But he argues that they should be used for that purpose, not the purpose of measuring some sort of any intelligence, but using the testing to inform some sort of specific goal, like oh may be this person is not performing well in school, use it like a problem-solving process. If a student comes in you know and you’re the school phycologist and the student is doing poorly in school, there’s a whole bunch of reasons that could be the case, and one of the reasons maybe that the child is under challenged and is not being given a chance to accelerator at the pace that they require or as well as a whole host of other reasons. And I think that an IQ test battery can be used among a lot of other indicators like school, you know family background, environment the child grows up in the, the teacher support, etc., etc. I argue for a holistic assessment of intelligence, that’s really what I’m arguing for is a holistic assessment that takes into account so many factors in the problem solving process. Does that make sense?

Brett McKay: That makes sense and I guess I imagine why we haven’t like as in the west and America haven’t done that is it’s pretty complicated to do a holistic view of a person. I mean it’s pretty easy to use a test to say okay, this is this person’s potential. So, we’ll use this as some sort of filtering. That’s why we use the IQ Tier, it’s a different type of IQ testing, it’s a filtering device.

Scott Kaufman: Yeah, that’s right. Somewhat a sorting device.

Brett McKay: A sorting device yeah like I guess an example from my personal life like is the LSAT right, for to enter into law school. It’s sort of an IQ test. It’s to test you for reasoning, it is a specific type of reasoning.

Scott Kaufman: But IQ, the global IQ score like .80, it’s very high.

Brett McKay: Yeah Blake we, I lost you.

Scott Kaufman: Hullo?

Brett McKay: Hey, we got disconnected.

Scott Kaufman: We just accidently got disconnected, yeah.

Brett McKay: That’s okay, we’re still recording so it’s fine.

Scott Kaufman: Great.

Brett McKay Yeah but I remember like that’s used as a sorting device like if you don’t score like universities, law schools use that if you score within a certain range like you’re not going to get into that law school. What’s interesting though is that I’ve known students who like did very poorly on the LSAT, not very poor, they’re like just bad enough or good enough they could get in, but they went on to have very successful careers in the law because maybe they weren’t great taking the LSAT but they were good at other aspects, or in other aspects of the law that’s I guess more important. I don’t know if that makes any sense

Scott Kaufman: It does, it does.

Brett McKay: Here’s a question to like I don’t know if this is even related, but you know there’s been, I just read this that there’s studies that show IQ test in America been going up like there’s some kind of affect right, isn’t there a name for that like why, I forget.

Scott Kaufman: Yeah, it’s called the Flynn Effect.

Brett McKay: The Flynn Effect. Yeah what is the Flynn Effect?

Scott Kaufman: So it turns out that like if our great, great, great, great, grandparents were alive today and took an IQ test, their IQ, the exact score would have a very different meaning today than it would have when they first took that test, it would be much, much lower, their IQ score. And you have to understand the way IQ is, and so to understand what I really mean by that you have to understand how IQ is calculated. IQ is not like weight or height. There is no, you know it’s an arbitrary number, it’s a number that purely relative to other people in the population. So if you’re alone on a desert island, you have the highest IQ in the world as well as the lowest IQ in the world.

Brett McKay: That makes sense, got it.

Scott Kaufman: Your IQ is meaningless. So what you do is you go out there and you measure your IQ, you measure, you administer a test to like thousands, thousands of people and then your particular IQ score is how well you did in comparison to all these other people, and it’s turned, it looks over the course of the 20th century people have been getting, been performing better on these tests. The standard has risen on this test so that what would earn you an IQ of let’s say 120 in 1900 would now you know be like in the mentally disabled range. And that’s the paradox, does that mean our great, great, great, great grandparents were mentally, all mentally disabled. Well no, so then the natural question is that are these tests even meaningful? So it raised the whole host of questions. It does seem that IQ has been rising.

Brett McKay: Interesting now here’s a question like for me, and I think other people would be interested, because as I was reading this section I was having a hard time getting my mind around it but you talk about general intelligence?

Scott Kaufman: Yes, yes, that’s the very thorny. You know in a very like easy-to-understand to way, you can either IQ which is just an average score amongst a whole wide range of different cognitive functions, is almost perfectly correlated with general and the general intelligence factor, so you can just think of general intelligence as IQ. General intelligence itself is a statistical methods you know that is actually quite sophisticated requiring significant factor analysis, where you look at the correlate, how these tests relate to one another and you see that people who are good at one test tend to be good at the other kinds of tests, and people who do poorly in one test tend to do poorly in other types of tests and you can kind of figure out statistically what’s in common, how much you know is in common across all these different tests and then rank people on how well they are in what’s in across all the tests. That’s a very sophisticated way of just saying it’s a rough estimate of the average efficiency and I’ve got a whole bunch of different, of these cognitive tests very similar to the physical fitness test you take in high school or middle school, right. You can come up with a general fitness factor, general fitness factor which is just basically your basic average efficiency across all sort of things like putting your chin up on the, in running the five hundred meter dash, you take all that, you put them through the hoops in ten different ways, and then you just ranked people in one dimension, which is their average efficiency across all the, and that’s all the general intelligence factor is. But it is complici–. I mean it is hard to describe general audience, but it does involve quite specific statistics and there are so many debates.

Brett McKay: Yeah that was the thing like, when I was reading it like, there was like lot of statistics which I never took in college. So okay that helped connect through things up for me. Here’s another question I have. I mean this goes to whether IQ tests are useful or not, take my example with the LSAT, as I’m familiar with that, as that had a big effect on my life. I remember when I first took my first practice exam, like I scored like a 142, which like would not get you into law school. This is I mean, this is like the first time I ever took the LSAT. But then like after about three months of intensive practice and study like I was able to get that score up like 165, which could get you into some really fantastic, some really high ranking law schools, and I ended up scoring like a 160 when I actually took the exam. And so like I got better at it, like I improved my I guess IQ and that reasoning in that area, but I know that if I were to take the LSAT today, I don’t think I would do that well, because I’ve been out I, I haven’t really like, I’m out of practice. It’s like, can you I mean this IQ testing can you sort of like practice those skills and then like do well for that IQ test, but later on in life. You know what I’m talking about? Did you get where I’m going with this?

Scott Kaufman: I mean that’s a very, it’s a very contentious field I show much can you train IQ versus the specific abilities that are measured by IQ test. So that’s a very contentious hot field right now. There’s, you know I told you like an IQ test there’s like seven or eight different general, like specific abilities that are measured from like reading and comprehension to spatial visualization ability, bunch of cognitive abilities. An IQ is just the average of all that right? Well it looks like it’s a lot harder to and IQ itself does fluctuate across your lifespan, so it can change, it can change. But it really is fairly stable, relatively stable across your lifespan, what we can seems be much more amenable to change are those specific abilities that involve practice. So you know luminosity has you know or a cognid, right. They train specific functions like working memory and you, there’s still evidence seem to much more clear that working memory can be improved than global efficiency.

Now with the LSAT, that’s a very interesting point because there is a recent stay that came out where they looked at the effect of LSAT training on the brain over the course of a couple months and they found, first of all they found that people on average, jumped from like the forty percentile or the seventieth percentile. So clearly that training helped a lot, but also their brain connectivity between the let’s call the frontal lobe and the parietal lobe, which we know is really important for attention and focus and executive functioning. That connectivity was much stronger after that practice. So this practice has measurable effects on the connectivity of key regions of our brain and I think that it’s just like going to the gym, like if you don’t practice it, it’s going to atrophy. Those skills are going to atrophy. And if you go back and tried it right now, you’re right, you probably wouldn’t as well but if we gave you another four months booster session or something you could probably get back up there. So these things are both relatively stable but are also amenable to change, that’s my new honest answer.

Brett McKay: Yeah, that’s a good one. Yeah, you bring up brain training, that’s kind of controversial too, it’s you know okay you can improve working memory, like you know, like a bit, honestly I did argue with those things like yeah you can do these games and you’ll get better at that game. But those are like correlate till I can prove my point.

Scott Kaufman: So that trans–, and the question itself UV IQ is smarts, which I don’t equate it with smarts, but if you do, which a lot of intelligence researchers do, then they’ll you’re just improving your working memory, not improving your smarts. No, I think that’s a slippery slope. I think that you know say that to a lot of people who suffer from their inability to focus, like people with ADHD and if you show them, and they go through training you show them benefits and their ability to concentrate in their daily life, that’s a very meaningful improvement in itself you know, and what does that mean, their intelligence wasn’t improved just because IQ scored in budge, you know in certain ways I would count that as an improvement of intelligence.

Brett McKay: Yeah, that may…

Scott Kaufman: It becomes definitional most often.

Brett McKay: Yeah, that’s really interesting. So one problem you talk about in the book with IQ tests is that they can they can of – what they end up doing is they label people as either gifted or ungifted, that’s what we do with elementary school, and when these labels are applied in use, they can, you know basically they follow you for the rest your life. And I think we all intuitively understand if you labeled ungifted how it can hurt you, but you also make an argument in your book that being labeled gifted can hurt as well, how so?

Scott Kaufman: Yeah, I don’t know if anyone’s actually labeled, I don’t know if ungifted is a official label.

Brett McKay: Yeah, I just, what do you call it, normal or?

Scott Kaufman: No, there is a term that is official that is used called slow learner, which I find extremely derogatory and the slow learners are considered beyond hope. So they are not well enough in IQ to warrant a diagnosis of mental disability, but they’re not high enough where we say that they are capable of remediation, so they all between the cracks. That’s because they’re like you know the 80 to 90 or a 78 to 80 IQ ranges, there are slow learners. So I think that’s the closest thing I would say to ungifted, but being labeled gifted does impact, I think it sets up an unrealistic expectation of what it takes to succeed in life and what it takes to particularly when you get to a point where you’re going to face challenges. It sets up this expectation that you were somehow born with this special sauce that’s going to get you through the hard times in life, that’s going to get you to your goals, that’s going to be able to allow you to achieve no matter what, and I think it’s very dangerous, that’s very dangerous and not true. You know, there are clearly people, kids that are developmentally ahead of others, just as there are kids who are developmentally slower than others at any moment in time and the resources they require it does involve getting them more accelerated, you know I’m a fan of fan of acceleration, but beyond that, I think it’s dangerous to set up for them expectations that they hold around their head, this sort of fixed notion of ability as you’re either gifted or you’re not gifted because the reality is far more complicated than that.

Brett McKay: So I guess a disadvantage of being called gifted, I mean you sort of lose out on those opportunities of like learning grit and so you sort of, you sort of learned helplessness right, it’s like if I can’t get it right off the bat, then it’s, I shouldn’t even try because apparently I wasn’t born to do that is. I mean it that?

Scott Kaufman: That’s right, I mean kids, I mean that’s a very common finding most kids in special education is they acquire learned helplessness, man that’s a shame. There’s a lot of debate, a lot of debate amongst the gifted community about what the purpose of purpose of gifted education should be, and I think that it’s far from settled. Is giftedness who you or is giftedness what you do? And the field is divided on that issue. And if you’ve believed giftedness is who you are then nothing you do is really going to matter really. You know if giftedness is who you are, you say I’m gifted, and then you fail at something, well that can have a traumatic impact on person’s self-esteem and a motivation to keep going because they’ll say oh I guess I wasn’t gifted to begin with, you know. So that can work in that ways as well.

Brett McKay: So do you think we can just drop the labels completely?

Scott Kaufman: I’m okay for dropping it. I just wrote a op-ed, that we just made in the New York Times, we’ll see what happens with some other researchers who wrote a very thoughtful book on rethinking gifted education and you know we argued that the gifted education shouldn’t be about identifying the gifted kid and giving them resources. It should be about advanced academics. It should be more about the gifted curriculum and not the gifted person. So we think it does a, it gets in the way of, the everyday practical needs of the child in the classroom. The giftedness concept and label I feel gets in the way of the real issues, which is the individual needs of each child in that classroom and you are you have some students in any classroom that at any moment in time require more advanced academics, but sticking the giftedness label I think gets in the way of how to actually help them with what they need most, which is normally just advanced academics within a particular domain, not in general, not in every single, in every single way possible, but usually in very specific ways. You know, the who’s a math whiz and needs more math curriculum, you know like let’s give him advanced academics and math, but I’m very more an advocate of a very practical approach, a very needs -based approach, but not getting tripped up in these fixed labels.

Brett McKay: Interesting. I’m curious if things like Con Academy and online education will make that practical. Because I’m sure like right now, people like, it’s easier just to like segment these kids off into their own separate class. Based with online education, you know, you don’t have to do that so much.

Scott Kaufman: And you also let kids go at their own pace and you know the giftedness concept is all about is all about how fast you get there you know. If you getting there faster than others you’re gifted. If you’re getting there slower than others you’re ungifted. But you know I think that really is not, and I’m thinking about it, it’s not really conducive to getting the best out of these kids. If there is an emphasis instead, if we had more of an emphasis or a school culture on the process, and not some much on how fast you get there but the quality of what you’re producing. If there is more of an emphasis on that, I think you’d be getting a lot more performance, better performance out of all the students.

Brett McKay: Very interesting. Okay, so another big theme in your book is this idea of greatness, like achieving greatness. And that’s I guess the first question is like how do you define greatness. Like what is it like, how do you define it? I mean I’m sure like it’s going to be different for every person right?

Scott Kaufman: Yet, now that we’ve sorted out –.

Brett McKay: Yeah, let’s go, lets’ go to this complex you know contentious topic.

Scott Kaufman: You know, greatness, it’s such a loaded word. Other people have used other words that – I basically I’m talking about there’s to that world-class expertise. I’m talking about high achievement at a level in which you clearly have acquired so much knowledge in that field and maybe you even you even like kind of sit on top of it, you kind of like, you kind of change your seat in new ways, or steer it in new directions, like you’re influencing it. To me I think that’s what greatness really is, it is your ability to kind of pull, pull a whole field and kind of you know where people are like following you know in new directions. But it does require a certain amount of expertise to do that. So there’s a certain process to that. I know that you’ve excerpted I think one of Robert Greene’s book’s, Mastery.

Brett McKay: Mastery yeah.

Scott Kaufman: You know I think that what he calls mastery might be what I’m calling greatness, but it is there is no objective definition of what greatness is. What do you think greatness is? Everyone I think thinks of greatness in a different way probably.

Brett McKay: Yeah I mean after I read your book I like ah, I like that idea of greatness. But yeah to me greatness is like being excellent in some aspect of my life. That’s too me what greatness is, whether that’s sports or music or relationships, I’m not talking just about picking up checks, because I just like being, having that social intelligence, being adept at that. To me I guess that would be greatness.

Scott Kaufman: Yeah I would be totally on board with that. I don’t want to get too tripped up on the terms, but there’s clearly, there clearly is a characteristic, you know you kind of like no greatness when you see it or you know when you’ve achieved it. Like you know that you’ve been kind of got to a level that’s top of the curb, like top one percent compared to other people in that field or in that whatever you’re interested in.

Brett McKay: So, I mean to achieve greatness or excellence, whatever you want to call it, I mean besides expertise, I’d imagine there’s other attributes you need, and it’s not just intelligence either. I know extremely smart people who just have wasted, you know their smarts, because they lack certain attributes that would allow them take advantage of that.

Scott Kaufman: Exactly, that’s why I like to think of greatness as a multiplicative function of a wide range of characteristics, not an additive functions. So if greatness was just the sum of grids and IQ and curiosity and you know then that wouldn’t allow for your ability to compensate in various ways to reach the same goal. Because you just add these things, add these values up and your total value would be the summation of that. But instead I see them more as a multiplicative function. So a very high, a very high level of certain characteristic can give you a higher total product value than another one, because these things multiply among each other. And in the book I outline a lot of different characteristics that you can bring to the table that you should be considering as potential contributors to greatness. Things like growth mindset, self-regulation, deliberate practice which is certainly something that is extremely important, that because of the quality or the way that you learn. Active learning strategies, not becoming, not being a passive learner but actively seeking out mentors, actively seeking out knowledge and instead of making that a very active learning process. I talk about I think openness to experience is very important. Intellectual curiosity, I distinguished intellectual curiosity in my research from IQ. They’re separate mentions. So you can be a very fast information processor and not have much curiosity, and the other way around, and I think these things – the point I want to make is that you can mix and match all these characteristics in unique ways to kind of give you your own brand of intelligence, your own unique, unique aspect of intelligence that you bring to the table that you wouldn’t appreciate if we just solely stuck to the standardized model. You know if we just took one of these characteristics like IQ and said you know the extent to which you deviate from this number is the extent to which you deviate from intelligence, to the extent to which you deviate from your ability to be great. You know I don’t think that’s the right way to think about it.

Brett McKay: So correct me if I’m wrong. So what I’m understanding is that you could be, you could score low on an IQ test or be considered a slow learner but if you have these other attributes are some of them or a mixture of them, you could, it might take you a little bit longer to get that point, but you could eventually get there if you stick to it. Is that?

Scott Kaufman: Yeah, there’s no God didn’t put any limits, they’re saying like oh God you must have IQ above this number to be great in life. You know there is no commandments from above like that. A lot of time we put it on, we self-imposed limitations and our own perceived limitations are often incorrect. And I think that’s what I noticed it myself so clearly is just how many limiting notions I had about, that I was being fed all these notions about how intelligent I was, and once I kind of tested those limits I realized just how wrong they were and I think no more people need to be doing with themselves.

Brett McKay: Very interesting that. I think we’re running our time here, but I got one last question for you?

Scott Kaufman: Well you asked a really great questions really great questions.

Brett McKay: I mean this is really, it’s fascinating stuff, let me get to this question okay. You talk on, you devote a chapter to deliberate practice right. You talk about that’s one of those attributes you need to achieve master your greatness. I think we’ve written about it, I think people are a kind of pretty familiar with it now, this whole idea of like you know Malcolm Gladwell’s the ten thousand hour rule and whatever, but you sort of take a nuanced view on it, conception of it. I mean can you explain where your ideas like differ from the typical idea of deliberate practice?

Scott Kaufman: Yeah, I don’t think that I differed too much from the traditional notions. Why were you thinking I differ from it, even Eriksson’s notion?

Brett McKay: It was just, it seemed like it’s a little bit more nuanced, because I think the popular idea of deliberate practice out there is like okay if you just devote ten thousand hours to this, then like you’re going to become a golf pro, which –.

Scott Kaufman: So okay. So there are, the rule, the ten thousand hour rule, I think we have to understand it’s just an average. There are people that get there in two years, and there are those it takes 20 years, right. Let’s not, let’s get away from the rule idea. The kind of practice you put into it, you know what Andrews Eriksson has called deliberate practice, is the extra quality of practice which is clearly important. But if that kind of practice interacts, I think I believe it interacts with a wide range of other variables, like your levels of motivation, the extent to which you’re at the appropriate challenging yourself so you can enter that flow state. The environmental support, how much are people giving me the resources, how much are, do you believe like, do you feels like you’re in a supportive, belonging environment. I see to it our practice as something that the rate at which you go up that curve, the rate at which you learn things, differs from different people and no matter what time it takes you to get there you know differs greatly, but it differs depending on a wide range of personal characteristics and environmental characteristics. So I think we just need to be careful of just saying ten thousand hour rule, because it really is not a rule, and there is no magic number to this, and I think that when you get rid of the magic number idea it allows you to knowledge there are prodigies and there are also late boomers and that’s okay. You know the world has lots of different kinds of people, and I’m okay with embracing that messiness and embracing that it’s not messiness, it’s just human diversity and I’m okay with that you know.

Brett McKay: The ten thousand hour rule, that sells books?

Scott Kaufman: It does, it’s simpler, it’s a simple idea.

Brett McKay: To like oh wow that’s awesome. I want to, I can do that. Well here’s, I know as a dad. And I know there’s a lot of dads or soon to be dads out there, their parents and like a lot of modern dads they’re much more involved in their kid’s life. Are there specific things that we can be doing with our kids to encourage these skills and attributes that are necessary to achieve greatness in their own way, whatever that is?

Scott Kaufman: Absolutely, at the end of the day that where my whole research is going, that’s what really I’m passionate about the most is how can we as teachers and parents bring out the best in our child? I think it’s all we can ask for at the end of the day, you know we get tripped up with all these words and we’re afraid oh Johnny’s not progressing as fast as Jimmy down the street you know, and if we just stopped with the comparisons, stop with that whole paradigm of individual differences where we say oh, my child’s not progressing as fast a rate as that child. Stay in a very local, in a very like needs based, what does my child need this exact moment? And there are things that you can do to bring out the best in that child to make then motivated. I think we should listen to their daydreams, listen to their own, what are their thoughts, what are they dreaming about, what are their, that gives us clues to their passions and their proclivities. And I think we should instill in our children the value of hard work, instill in them idea that they will see results if they put in that work. That there is this sort of, Carol Dweck calls it a growth mindset that there is value to learning from feedback and there is no state labeled failure, you know don’t ever say to your child like you failed, you know in this moment. You know really try to instill in them this growth mindset. Some of the conditions allow them to play, some of the conditions allow them to question authority and I would say ultimately the thing I’ve learned the most about my whole life is the importance of being your own self advocate and what I mean by being your own self advocate is insulating yourself from the expectations of others, kind of creating a bubble around that so that you are totally operating with your own internal compass, and that’s probably that the number one thing I see among those who do reach greatness is that they’ve done a really good job of following their own internal compass, and kind of ignoring that sort of, that outside expectations and influences.

Brett McKay: Very cool. What about guys who are like in their twenties or thirties, I mean even in their fifties like they, they feel like they evidently, they sort of like missed out, right. They’re not on that path. I mean can you turn things around? I guess as a question I mean are we, if you haven’t started this now, are you doomed to a life of mediocrity? Is that, that’s the question?

Scott Kaufman: Definitely not, definitely no. Like I did this profile, I did this piece on late bloomers for Psychology Today a couple of years ago and I had the great privilege of interviewing a bunch of late boomers in their fifties, sixties and seventies who completely changed careers and what I, what struck me about that is that they were able to use their age to their advantage. So actually, sometimes it’s to your benefit to be a late bloomer, because you can bypass all the games people play, all those bullshit, you know all the competition and everything amongst the younger people. You can just glide right over it all and get your own unique niche in the marketplace. I’ve seen that in this guy who got on Broadway at age fifty I think and you know he just, and you know all his kids that are vying for the same spots were outside of drama school at age like 22 when they just graduate. He just like walked right over that right. And you can see it in lots of different fields. I would definitely not lose, I was hoping I would try to think strategically of ways of using it to your advantage in fact.

Brett McKay: Very cool, all right well Scott this, as always fascinating discussion book ungifted, completely, a great book. If you’re a dad, go get it. Even if you’re not a dad, I highly recommend you get it, you’ll get something, I got something out of it for my own life. Thanks again for taking the time to talk to us.

Scott Kaufman: Thank you, Brett, I really appreciate the work you do.

Brett McKay: Thank you. Our guest today was Doctor Scott Barry Kaufman. Scott is the author of the book Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined and you can find that on

Well that wraps up another edition of the art of manliness podcast for more manly tips and advice, make sure to check out the Art of Manliness website at and if you enjoy this free podcast, we would really appreciate if you take the time to give it a rating on whatever service you used to listen to the podcast be it iTunes or Stitcher, that would help us out a lot, and until next time staying manly.

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