3 Types of Intelligence Every Startup Founder Needs

Have you ever paused and tried to come up with a definition for the idea of intelligence? Typically, people associate intelligence with the ability to perform complicated equations or figure out complex logic problems. But it goes much deeper than that.

The Role of Intelligence in Entrepreneurship

“Intelligence has been defined in many different ways including as one’s capacity for logic, understanding, self-awareness, learning, emotional knowledge, reasoning, planning, creativity, and problem solving,” Wikipedia explains. “It can be more generally described as the ability to perceive or infer information, and to retain it as knowledge to be applied towards adaptive behaviors within an environment or context.”

While everyone agrees that intelligence plays a role in being a successful and productive entrepreneur, there’s still confusion about how intelligence is acquired and what amount of intelligence is needed to find success.

To a degree, intelligence is hereditary. If both of your parents are talented scientists with dozens of awards and recognition from leading institutions, then your chances of being smart are pretty good. However, not every intelligent person has “smart” parents. Just as genes play a role, so do environmental factors. Furthermore, the types of intelligence a person acquires are often a direct result of the world in which they live.

Dr. Howard Gardner, a Harvard psychologist, has developed something he calls the Theory of Multiple Intelligences. This theory essentially states that there are eight distinct types of intelligence and there’s no direct correlation between them. In other words, a person could possess strong intelligence in one category and be totally helpless in the other seven areas (or vice versa).

Dr. Gardner also believes that these various forms of intelligence have evolved over time in response to their value in human history. If a particular form of intelligence wasn’t beneficial to society, it wouldn’t have evolved and survived to this point.

3 Types of Intelligence You Need to Master

Different types of intelligence are valued in different areas of life. When you look at entrepreneurship and study the factors that set the most successful startup founders apart from the pack, you’ll notice that there are three types of intelligence that seem to have evolved into relevancy over the years. The more you hone your skills in these areas, the more potential you’ll have.

1.      Social Intelligence

“It’s not what you know, but who you know.” How many times have you heard this saying? Well, you hear it because it’s true. Your connections with people are almost always more important than your book smarts – and that’s why you need to focus on honing social intelligence: The ability to build effective relationships with other people and successfully navigate social environments.

As Dr. Daniel Goleman points out, humans are biologically hardwired to connect with other people. The human brain contains more spindle cells – cells that guide social decisions – than any other animal species. We also have mirror neurons that help us predict the behavior of people around us. Then there’s dopamine, the chemical secreted by the brain when we find other people attractive and engaging. 

As an entrepreneur, social intelligence allows you excel at networking, effectively manage employees, and enhance your sales skills. It’s integral to your overall success. The question is, how do you improve your social intelligence?

Believe it or not, it all starts with body language. Researchers have come to the conclusion that 55 percent of communication is non-verbal. (Approximately 38 percent is the tone of voice, while just 7 percent is the actual words spoken.) The more you can improve your body language – i.e. gestures, eye contact, posture, etc. – the greater influence you’ll have.

From a leadership perspective, it’s also important that you learn how to use your words for maximum influence. This means taking firm stances and having confidence in what you say.

“We admire and respect assertive people,” business coach Eva Gregory writes. “It’s frustrating when others beat around the bush or attempt to be indirect. But there’s a difference between assertiveness and aggressiveness.”

For example, assertiveness would be saying something like, “I feel like it’s in the company’s best interest for us to go with the second marketing campaign.” On the other hand, an aggressive statement would say, “I don’t care what you think, we’re doing the second marketing campaign.”

A high level of emotional intelligence enables you to lead a group of people through persuasion and motivation. It’s essential to your success as a startup founder.

2.      Cultural Intelligence

Cultural intelligence is often described as the ability to successfully and efficiently communicate with people across a variety of cultures. It has a variety of components, including behavioral, motivational, and metacognitive aspects.

When Dr. Gardner talks about the idea that different types of intelligence evolve and rise to prominence over time, cultural intelligence would certainly be a good example.

In the past, cultural intelligence has only mattered for a select few people – i.e. those who spent a lot of time traveling the globe for business. But as the internet and technology have grown, borders have dissipated, and cultures now have more interaction than ever before.

Cultural intelligence must be learned and practiced over time. The more you become aware of your deficiencies in this area, the more you can improve.

Inquisitive people tend to possess high levels of cultural intelligence. They ask questions, look for new information, and don’t automatically assume their way of doing something is the best way.

“If you find yourself puzzled or surprised about something members of the culture say or do, that can be an entry point to the culture,” applied cognitive psychologist Dr. Louise Rasmussen writes for Global Cognition. “The fact that you don’t immediately understand what’s going on is a sign that they may have a different shared understanding than you. This can be a good point to ask questions or otherwise get more information.”

Cultural intelligence is also rooted in a willingness to learn through a variety of channels, including websites and blogs, films, books, and travel. The more you diversify your pursuit of knowledge, the greater your cultural intelligence will become.

In a business world where you’re increasingly likely to have interactions with multiple cultures – both inside the workplace and outside of your company – a high degree of cultural intelligence will help you tremendously.

3.      Emotional Intelligence

The third type of intelligence modern entrepreneurs must possess is emotional intelligence, or the ability to detect and understand your emotions and the emotions of others.

“Emotionally intelligent people are empathetic – they’re good at putting themselves in someone else’s shoes and seeing challenges from different perspectives, which can also help them solve problems. These qualities typically make them excellent, respected communicators,” startup consultant Andrew Deen writes. “Although emotional intelligence is highly prized in the traditional workplace, it can be extremely helpful – and even crucial – for entrepreneurs.”

As Deen explains, a high level of emotional intelligence improves self-awareness, leads to more effective communication, enhances control over emotions, allows you to identify customer needs more effectively, unifies employees through enhanced leadership, and is “the number one indicator of success.” But how do you, as an entrepreneur, improve your emotional intelligence to enjoy more success?

The number one key to honing your emotional intelligence is to be strategic with who and what you surround yourself with. For example, the more time you spend with smart and creative people, the more likely that you’ll personally be smart and creative.

Reading is also something that has a positive impact on emotional intelligence. The more you read, the more you begin to understand how people think and process information.

On a more personal note, you need to be cognizant of your own emotions and how they impact your performance, output, and ability to lead. For example, you need people in your life who can let you know when you’re being foolish or biased. Having people in your life who hold you accountable will help you get back on track and avoid making costly mistakes.

“Emotional intelligence takes work and practice just like any other form of intelligence,” entrepreneur John Boitnott points out. “Good news – you're in total control of working those emotional intelligence muscles. Watch who you interact with, learn new things and give yourself emotional outlets. These will all help grow this highly valuable personal capability.”

The Pursuit of Intelligence

A lot of people assume that intelligence is 100 percent hereditary. In other words, they think it’s something you either have or don’t. And while genes certainly play a significant role, to believe that you have no control over your level of intelligence is to be acutely unaware of your own power and influence.

Social, cultural, and emotional intelligence are all important for entrepreneurial success. They are also forms of intelligence that you can sharpen and improve over time. In this sense, you have more control over your own destiny than you realize.

What will you do with it?