In a nice coincidence, two books I’m reading–Make It Stick and Everybody Lies–both talk about intelligence and practical problem solving in the context of identifying horses that will be winners at the track.
In Make it Stick, the authors speak of successful horse handicapping as a demonstration of practical intelligence–as opposed to analytical or creative intelligence, the other two types in Robert Sternberg’s model. The success of handicappers is unrelated to IQ, they point out. Handicappers develop “complex mental models involving as many as seven variables” (p. 150), and one doesn’t have to be intelligent in the IQ sense to develop this ability.
In Everybody Lies, Seth Stephens-Davidowitz also discusses individuals who are able to successfully identify gifted horses, but for him the discussion is geared toward to use of data. For him, the users of new data and new analysis techniques are likely to have the biggest impact in situations where old ways of using data aren’t very successful–such as, he contends, identifying likely winners among horses.
Successful handicapper Jeff Seder’s innovation, Stephens-Davidowitz points out, was to systematically measure every element of horses, both physical and familial, he could and use data analysis to determine correlations with winning. Using x-rays, he finally discovered the one variable that makes a meaningful difference is aorta size.
If Stephens-Davidowitz is right, it demonstrates that Sternberg’s practical intelligence is vulnerable to significant disruption from analytical intelligence. Practical intelligence is also likely more prone to biases (if Stephens-Davidowitz is correct that prior to Jeff Seder that horse evaluation was ineffective, then identifying successful horse handicappers would be prone to survivor bias; those that got lucky and identified winners would attribute their success to practical intelligence instead of luck).