Book Review: Beyond IQ by Garth Sundem

Beyond IQ book coverWhen I received my review copy of Beyond IQ: Scientific Tools for Training Problem Solving, Intuition, Emotional Intelligence, Creativity, and More by Garth Sundem, I was immediately struck by one thought.

“… Yeah, right” (spoken with mild sarcasm)

 The title alone claims quite a few things, especially if you know a little about trying to use these skills or encourage their use in others.  

I skimmed the book in a random fashion, flipping idly through the pages, and was immediately aware that this book has a lot of lists, pictures, graphics, and symbols sprinkled liberally throughout, along with the prerequisite word content.

I was reminded of puzzle books that one can purchase at any book store, grocery store, or probably at any fast gas and cheap food place these days.   This set up my expectation that this was a light-weight book which would provide some diversion and enjoyment similar to my crossword puzzle books … and that would be the end of its usefulness to me.

… Was I ever wrong and I could not be happier to be so!

Garth Sundem has done his homework nicely, collecting the latest thinking around a wide range of topics related to neuroscience and how our brains help and hinder us.. I normally do not list chapters of books, since the titles are sometimes oblique without the accompanying content and sometimes because listing titles can be boring and provide no extra value. I am breaking my own rules with the following list of chapters, because they show in clear detail just what this book covers:

Insight, Practical Intelligence, Problem-Solving, Creativity, Intuition, Your Brain on Technology, Expertise, Working Memory, Keeping Intelligence, Wisdom, Performance Under Pressure, Emotional Intelligence, Willpower, Multitasking, Heuristics and Biases.

These short and compactly written sections are liberally endowed with short exercises to highlight the main points being discussed.  

An Example From Beyond IQ:

For example, I especially enjoyed the section on Problem-Solving, since this particular skill lines up with several of the other topics (insight, creativity, practical intelligence, wisdom, and so on) and is a topic which I try to nurture in others.

Sundem starts by describing the troubles encountered by Metropolitan State College of Denver as it sought to change its name to something more reflective of its academic stature (in other words, “college” to “university”). The story goes through several twists and turns to reinforce the idea that problem-solving has to include thinking beyond a narrow scope and considering many possibilities.

He then introduces Richard Mayer, a noted researcher from the University of California at Santa Barbara, who offers some solid learning on what makes successful problem-solvers different from the rest of us: “… the time they spend studying the initial state and the constraints – the extra time they spend clarifying the problem.” (p. 36)

According to Mayer, we solve problems in four primary ways: Random, Depth-First, Breadth-First, and Means-Ends Analysis Search. Mayer then teachs us about solving problems by using the everyday maze.     I had never considered the variety in our problem-solving approaches, until I had the opportunity to solve the same or similar mazes using each of these approachs.

After several more short examples and exercises, Sundem has some fun with a section on “Faulty Assumptions”, in the form of a list of brain-teasers designed to show us how the assumptions we make hinder us from effectively being able to solve problems.

One example from the list:


It’s a dark and stormy night and you’re driving down the street when you notice three people at a bus stop: an old woman who needs a doctor ASAP, your best friend, and the date of your dreams. You can only fit one other person in your car. What should you do?

I’ll let you chew on this before I share the answer.  (Bragging point: I got it within 10 seconds, but then I AM a professional.)

Sundem ends this chapter with a discussion on how to solve those aggravating little sliding tile puzzles … quite a trick when you consider that a simple 4×4 puzzles contains approximately 653 billion possible states.

However, the knowledge you pick up in this chapter and in others is not just for parlor games or to impress lesser mortals.

What did I Really Like?

I enjoyed the non-academic, but precise writing style which conveyed some fairly sophisticated concepts in accessible language and with good organization.

This is a great review of current neuroscience and decision-making knowledge.

The ability to actually do exercises that other books just talk about may be the single most valuable part of this book

Tying Up Loose Ends:  About that dark and stormy bus stop …

Sundem’s solutionmay seem obvious as we read:

Assumption: You must be the driver.  

Instead, give the keys to your best friend, who takes the old lady to the hospital while you wait for the bus with your dream date (who is now duly impressed).

Without intentional strengthening of our ability to creatively problem-solving and move past erroneous assumptions, many of us struggle to figure how to choose who to put in the car with us.

Bottom Line: Who Will Benefit From This Book?

Anyone who wants or needs to know how our cognitive, emotional, and behavioral selves come together will benefit from reading this book, whether you choose chapters of specific interest or read from the first page to the last.

If you are a leadership, business, or life coach, a teacher, a manager, or someone else who seeks to understand and help others understand how to make more effective decisions, this book has much to offer in terms of current knowledge and engaging exercises.

Enjoying imagining how much more effective my teaching and coaching will be when I use this book as a resource in the Heartland ….



Beyond IQ by Garth Sundem was published in 2014 by Three Rivers Press. 220 pages.  As noted above, I received a review copy of this title, which did not influence the comments above.  I was and am genuinely delighted by the value and learning I have found in this book.