The Too Many Aptitudes Problem
is a force, not a tool. Talent is neither good nor bad. Being
multi-talented is a very mixed blessing. For some people, it is a curse.
Ability or performance is the result of complex interaction between
various parts of the mind/body system. Some parts of ability are due to
"nurture." The most important of these environmental factors is
knowledge in one form or another. Nature is the basis of talent.
We all know, understand, and operate on more levels than just the
conscious. Talents or aptitudes are unlearned abilities--gut-level and
non-conscious ways of operating.
people call them knacks. Aptitudes have a major impact not just on
performance, but on our individual and unique states of being. They are
a big part of the reason "One man's meat is another man's poison."
Most people know far more than they realize about knacks and talents.
People usually know if they are mechanical, have a sense of direction,
pick up languages, enjoy puzzles or are good with their hands.
who has managed or trained people has seen the clear impact of
unlearned abilities. In any area, some folks take to it like ducks to
water. Once trained, they stay ahead of the crowd. Others sweat to keep
up, or fail miserably.
Strong talents do not equal high performance. Having the right knacks
or talents provides a head start and ongoing advantage. They are not
very useful without knowledge and motivation.
have to be trained in order to be used well. Peak performance occurs
when one has the right combination of talents, knowledge, motivation,
opportunity, courage, luck, tools and the X factors.
About two dozen different and independent aptitudes are pretty well
known, with another couple dozen possibles and probables (see attached
list). These talents are simple things: types of memory, ways of
processing information, levels of perception.
are building blocks for more complex ways of operating. They operate in
a systemic way and are important factors in long-term performance and
Everyone seems to have each aptitude to some degree--high, mid-range or
low. These seem to be genetic in origin, though a case can be made for
the influence of early childhood stimulation. It is a moot question for
time someone passes puberty, the aptitudes are roughly stable (when
performance on aptitude tests is compared to others in the same age
Talents can be consciously directed into constructive channels.
However, they seem to work at a pre-conscious level--the gut level.
They are always operating--continuous forces that cannot be turned off.
This is very important under stress, when people tend to forget their
training and revert to gut-level functioning.
with the right aptitudes/talents/knacks for a task don't fatigue as
quickly and are less or not at all stressed by it.
Though most of the research has focused on their functional aspects,
talents impact on people in ways both obvious and subtle. Aptitudes are
not simply tools to be used at will. They are ongoing forces within the
way, talents are vectors affecting behavior in predictable ways. You
don't just do things with talent--it does things to you.
Aptitudes--high and low--have an extremely strong psychological, social
and even philosophical impact.
Aptitudes have an important impact on motivation. It feels good to use
a high aptitude, thus reinforcing operating that way. Feeling good
about using yourself in a particular way is almost certainly related to
the production of endorphins.
only pain killers, endorphins are also known to be mood regulators.
Several kinds of endorphins have been isolated. There are probably as
many endorphin types as there are aptitudes.
Some of the feelings associated with strong talents are negative. An
unused aptitude is a source of frustration and restlessness. A talent
is also a need. Ongoing in its functioning, an unused aptitude must
either be stifled or ignored.
takes energy to stifle a part of yourself and to neutralize or ignore a
natural and ongoing tendency. It also doesn't feel good. This takes its
toll in the long run. Motivational energy seems to be finite--the extra
effort needed to stifle a part of yourself is an important factor in
Low aptitudes are also important. Almost anyone can learn to do a task
or pass a class by rote, but if the gut level "knowing" is lacking,
performance is inferior to those who have the knack (other factors
that deep level of knowing or understanding, self-confidence is lower.
If people don't have a gut-level feel for a situation, they are never
really comfortable there. It is anxiety producing and energy draining
to operate in low-talent areas. Without the inherent rewards associated
with high aptitude, motivation is lower. It isn't impossible to get
Low-aptitude people make more errors and achieve less in that area--or
work a lot harder to achieve the same results. This can lead to
burnout, accidents, and a high level of stress-related illness.
possible to learn to be better at anything, whatever the level of
aptitude. However, with the same effort, people with the right talents
for that activity stay ahead--and enjoy what they're doing. For them,
operating in a particular way is cost-effective on many levels.
Most jobs and tasks are best performed by folks with certain high and
low aptitude combinations (plus other things like training, of course).
High aptitudes beyond job needs cause problems. The optimum combination
for any given job or task resembles a recipe--a lot of some things,
some of this, a bit of this, and none of that.
Just one wrong high aptitude can make a job intolerable for a
person--like onions in a chocolate cake. A person with a strong knack
for working with others might hate solitary work and quit, but be
tremendously productive and satisfied as part of a team.
a high or low aptitude is good or bad depends on the context. Anything
can be an advantage or disadvantage depending on the situation. Talent
is no exception.
Most people have about four or five strong talents out of the roughly
two dozen independent aptitudes known to exist. Most jobs require about
four or five. As many as 10% of the population has double that number
of aptitudes--and that is a problem for them and their employers.
Johnson O'Connor Research Foundation, the oldest aptitude-testing
organization in the country, has statistical evidence that people with
too many aptitudes (TMAs) are less likely to obtain advanced education
and/or succeed in a career than those with an average number of talents.
Being a TMA is a very mixed blessing. Strong talents are extremely
powerful internal forces. One of the most important implications of my
aptitude research is the strong possibility that emotional intensity is
directly correlated with the intensity of a talent.
operating at a high-intensity level of talent (including reasoning)
will also be operating at a high-intensity level of emotion. Every
thought, memory or perception is directly connected to emotion--a
It is quite possible that TMAs are continually operating in a
hypersensitive manner. People hypersensitive to external and internal
data in many forms and operating at a high emotional intensity level
might very well become overstimulated.
overstimulation could explain the paralysis felt by some TMAs. They are
so overwhelmed by perceptions, memories, thoughts and feelings that
they can't commit themselves to anything. Many of them need a lot of
time alone to regenerate. Yet, this same turbulence can also lead to
great insight and creativity.
The existence of a powerful force implies difficulty in learning to
harness that force. Having a lot of strong talents is a bit like
dealing with high voltage. You can do a lot of things with high
voltage. However, it can also fry you. It takes a lot more knowledge
and more safety precautions to work with high voltage rather than low.
A lot of that voltage for TMAs is emotional. Few people know how to
handle normal emotion, let alone powerful, ongoing emotion.
Among the clearest psychological effects of having many talents are
problems of focus. TMAs are drawn in many different and conflicting
directions. It is like being an engineer, a lawyer, a cook, a teacher
and a musician--all at once, with all of them demanding their share of
time and energy. Self-structuring thus becomes a major problem for
TMAs. Unable to use themselves well, they usually end up as
employees--and resent it.
TMAs often become job hoppers, instinctively trying to satisfy their
diverse needs. Job hopping rarely leads to financial success. It also
doesn't lead to the consistent building of knowledge, expertise and
reputation that is necessary for significant success in any area.
TMAs often don't fit in well with organizations or groups. They are
rarely willing to give up their perceptual and decision-making
independence for the sake of group membership. Basically, they are
saying "I will join only on my own terms," which is unacceptable to
Pecking orders exist in any human activity. TMAs often cause problems
to the hierarchy. Most TMAs aren't really motivated (or all that
impressed) by money or power. They feel that they are anyone's equal
and want to be treated as such--a state of mind that is often seen as a
direct challenge to authority and the authority structure.
Hyper-critical and often irreverent, TMAs cannot act as if the boss
were always right. They notice the Naked Emperor and comment, or expend
a lot of energy stifling themselves. Consistently commenting on
imperial nudity is seen by others--especially bosses--as aggressive.
TMAs usually have high reasoning aptitudes. Folks like this don't like
applying pat answers to routine problems--it doesn't use their
reasoning ability. They need to work things out by themselves, need to
solve real problems. This can be a strength or a weakness (ever wonder
why some people won't read instructions?). At work they often feel they
are operating in low gear and tend to gravitate to fringe or trouble
areas. Without problems, TMAs will often find some or make some.
TMAs are powerful people. They are competent in many ways. They tend to
be either domineering or overwhelming in relationships with
others--only strong people aren't threatened by them. TMAs often
develop considerable informal power at work or in groups. At work a
strong manager is thus likely to require more submission gestures from
a TMA than from others. That invites covert (or overt) retaliation and
TMAs often find themselves in conflict with authority.
Rarely identifying with group norms, and sometimes challenging the
basic assumptions of the group, TMAs are often resented and feared by
peers and subordinates as much as by authority figures. Clearly
perceived by others as powerful, they are also seen as dangerous and
unpredictable and therefore untrustworthy.
Thus, TMAs often don't receive the rewards and protection offered by
the group. They recognize this. Their alienation leads directly to the
idea that "The system and the rules don't work for me, so I've got to
do something else." This can mean crime or creativity, or both. It also
seems to mean internal conflict, self-esteem problems and confusion.
These problems are usually not apparent at first glance. At any given
time the TMA appears to be functioning very well. Often, the TMA will
be brilliant in many aspects of work and life. It is only over time
that the pattern of difficulties begins to emerge. It often leads to
destructive self-criticism or self-hatred--TMAs seem to have a rather
high suicide rate.
The worst-off TMAs seem to be the ones who try to be normal. This
includes using normal definitions of success. TMAs often find it
personally destructive to try to fit into normal molds. They aren't
normal. Not better, not worse. Different, and with different needs.
TMA is not something that can be ignored or cured. It is something that
has to be worked with. For most multi-talented people, it is likely to
cause problems at one stage of life or another. Many TMAs never learn
to use themselves well. Usually their worst problems are associated
with lack of financial or professional success. Though there are no
easy answers, there are better or worse ways to work with TMA.
Not all TMAs are unsuccessful. TMAs seem to function best at
frontiers--intellectual, social or physical. These are the places where
learning and doing are the same thing. They can operate well at
interfaces between different parts of society--liaison and translation.
They often do well as troubleshooters, innovators or problem solvers,
in research or investigation, and in product or method development.
They also seem to do quite well in situations like the Alamo, fighting
long odds and staving off the inevitable.
TMAs are most likely to be happiest with work that provides a lot of
variety, challenge and opportunity for use of diverse talents--usually
multi-disciplinary areas. Even then, many TMAs feel that they are
underachieving, that they could do great things. And they are usually
right. The only thing that can motivate the TMA to focus enough for
really high achievement is a value judgment.
TMAs are usually hypercritical, a side effect of high reasoning
aptitudes. They notice flaws and loopholes, errors and inconsistencies.
They notice that 90% of almost anything is bullshit. They are usually
good arguers and can tear just about anything to shreds--including
TMAs will sometimes set goals, prove to themselves that these goals are
worthless, and then repeat the entire cycle. Each decision can be
challenged, each goal can be laughed at--and thus nothing is worth
doing. This destroys personal motivation and energy.
Money, power and self-aggrandizement don't really motivate TMAs. Only
finding something worth doing--by their own high standards--can
motivate TMAs to focus enough for sustained very high achievement. Then
and only then can the powerful forces of the diverse aptitudes be
TMA is a broader category than high IQ. Most members of high-IQ groups
will be TMAs, but there is a bias in favor of people with high Near
Point Visual Efficiency, which makes them more likely to be prolific
readers, have more formal education and do better on computerized
tests. Many TMAs don't walk the intellectual path. Mensa claims to be
the top 2%. I think there are a lot more TMAs than that.
List of Apparently Independent and Unlearned Aptitudes
A. Category: Reasoning/Processing
1. Systems reasoning: an information organizing aptitude that takes
data and puts it into a system, or takes data and organizes it into a
system. Often the basis of an interest in history. Analyzing things.
Useful for programmers, editors, process planners.
2. Flash reasoning: condition of (mostly) accurately jumping to
conclusions, quickly seeing discrepancies and errors, with a need to be
critical and answer questions. Natural debaters, they take strong
partisan positions. Therapists, troubleshooters, detectives, lawyers.
3. Cause/effect reasoning: seeing extended parallel cause and effect
sequences. This awareness of the long term makes it easier to
conceptualize and achieve long-term goals in diverse areas.
4. Numerical reasoning: a feel for the patterns and rhythms in numbers.
Arithmetical type activities.
5. Logical reasoning: naturally processing data in the form of
syllogisms. Programmers, logicians.
B. Category: States of Being
1. Mechanical/spatial: an aptitude for things and 3D space. Mostly
found together, the mechanical and spatial can exist separately.
Engineers, air traffic controllers, doctors, truckers.
2. Semantic equivalence: aptitude/need for group functioning, including
people politics and the ability to identify with others, read vibes
well. High: sales, management. Low: useful for specialists, artists and
independent decision makers.
3. Idea production: rate at which ideas are produced (independent of
idea quality). High: communicators of various types. Low: useful in
high concentration areas like accounting, surgery.
4. Sensory discrimination: making fine sensory discriminations.
Winemakers, coffee buyers, decorators.
C. Category: Memory/Perceptual Sensitivity
1. Observation: aptitude for looking at things, recognizing and
2. Number (visual): remembering, noticing numbers.
3. Design: sensitivity to and memory for designs.
4. Word (visual): memory for and sensitivity to written words.
5. Color: memory for and sensitivity to color.
6. Tone: memory for and sensitivity to tones.
7. Rhythm: memory for and sensitivity to rhythm and timing.
8. Number (audible): memory and sensitivity to spoken numbers.
9. Word (audible): memory and sensitivity to spoken words.
1. Near Point Visual Efficiency: close-in visual scanning as in
paperwork, CRT screens.
2. Finger dexterity: good hands.
3. Small tool dexterity: tweezers, eyebrow pencils.
Hands-on task-organizing ability, spatial orientation, sensory
threshold/overload point, body memory, common sense, green thumb,
competitiveness, auditory identi/fication, day/night alertness,
intuition, synesthesia, healing, affinity for animals, seeing auras.
This material can be
reproduced and distributed freely as long as it is for private,
Article condensed from Danger: High Voltage; copied from Noesis - The
Journal of the Mega Society, Number 138 September 1998
~ ~ ~
related pages :
article: Are You a Scanner? - by
"If you're a Scanner, you are a very special kind of thinker. Unlike
those people who seem to find and be satisfied with one area of
interest, you're genetically wired to be interested in many things..."
/ sensitivity resources : articles sites books
~ ~ ~