Individual Intelligence and Organization Behavior

There can be a tendency in business and in life to fixate on the value of individual intelligence. After all, those who graduate from Ivy League institutions are more readily employed because of the perception that more intelligent students attend those universities. Indeed, in the right situations, it is difficult to over-value individual intelligence. However, when it comes to implementing change, the individual intelligence of the organization’s members can be largely irrelevant. Implementing change at the organizational level hinges on unified behaviors rather than the talent of individuals.

A historical example of this concept would be the movement of large groups of soldiers during battles prior to the modern era. In the days of Napoleon or the Civil War, the more or less accepted method of attack was for two groups of soldiers to face one another on an open field and to advance on each other. As long as both groups adhered to this method, the soldiers involved handled implementing change, which involved moving forward, fairly well. This occurred because the mass of soldiers were responding as a unit with little individual intelligence being employed for the task.

If one side chose to change the method and engage in flank attacks, the situation changed considerably. In flank attacks, the enemy does not approach directly but moves in from the sides. In this situation, it is likely that at the individual level, the rank and file soldier is aware of what is occurring as well as what needs to happen. Despite the individual intelligence to recognize the reality of the situation, flank attacks were enormously successful maneuvers when executed properly. The success of the flank attack can be attributed largely to the inability of the soldiers as a group to go about implementing change in the way it needed to happen.

When implementing change in an organization, the same truth applies. Very bright individuals may recognize the necessity of the change, but lack the ability to enact it at the group level. Their individual intelligence is less important in that situation than the ability of the organization as a whole to engage in unified behavior.