What’s your NQ?

22 Mar

Sometime in the late ’90s, otherwise known as “the Golden Age” for me, the primacy of IQ (Intelligence Quotient) as a tool to test human intellectual capacity, gave way to a little regarded concept called EQ.  Emotional Intelligence seeks to understand how deftly an individual uses their temperment, personality and social skills to adapt and succeed in society.   It unravels mysteries such as why there are folks whose high IQs would get them a research position at MIT, but would never get them a sales job or probably even a date.  EQ became a bit of a sensation, adding weight to multiple intelligences theories and providing shortlived relief from the testing culture of American schooling.  Discussions of EQ poured cold water on the obsession with regarding logic based reasoning as the quintessence of intelligence.   Just check out what Time magazine had to say about it in 1995.

Well move over  EQ, there’s a new measure of smarts in town.  Make way for Narrative Intelligence.  Your NQ, or (Narrative Quotient) as I’ll call it, seeks to measure how well an individual can use stories to order their lives and give meaning and direction to their behavior.  EQ and NQ share some similarities in that they both gravitate toward qualitative, not quantitative theories of intelligence.  Ironically then, Narrative Intelligence was coined by the computing industry in the late 90’s and has been primarily used to improve the effectiveness of information technology.  A good illustration of this would be web programing for sites like Amazon.com that give customers a list of the items they likely prefer, because it draws conclusions about them based on the story their past shopping behavior tells.  I was clued  into Narrative Intelligence through a completely different source.   This post by Chris Folmsbee, who is guest blogging for North Park theology professor Scot McKnight, mentions the subjects importance for people of faith.  Folmsbee writes urgently about the need to reassess how Christian beliefs and practices will be passed on to the next generation.  Along the way he relates how crucial storytelling is to this task:

Thinking in story is critical for a meaningful connection between a person’s story, the story of a particular community and God’s story. How do we help the students in our faith communities engage more deeply in the enduring, unfolding narrative of God?

He’s right.  Thinking in story is like bread and butter for people of religious faith, no matter what that faith might be.  Religions contain central stories that help a set of circumtances, or beliefs about the world, coalesce into something people can live their life by.  We could even press the point and say that any guide we live by, whether its the scientific method, investment strategies, or fitness regimens, all of them tell a story about how to order our lives and our world.  But while stories are omnipresent, understanding how to tell and hear them is increasingly rare.  American culture is hardpressed to assist.  After all, we excel in soundbytes not stories.  This is the culture of KISS (Keep it Simple Stupid) and hence our almost universal preference for manuals and instruction books for getting through life.   Have a problem? Go find one of the endless “[insert title here] for dummies” books or “You” the owner’s manual.  Merits of the content aside, does a human being need a manual like a 2008 Honda Civic Coupe?  In the corporate world,  its nice to dress presentations up in stories, but business runs on bullet points.  And sometimes a picture is only worth a thousand words, because frankly were to busy to write them.  Thinking in stories is so foreign to us, but if you think about it, a good narrative will help us do at least three familiar activities:

1.) Order the events of our lives  2.)  Assign meaning to things  3.) Predict Outcomes

These are big, but basic tasks.  And we need fresh eyes and ears to be able to use stories in this way.  This won’t happen on our own, and that’s why thinking in story can’t happen in a vacuum.  Like a wikipedia entry, we need the contributions of many people to make sense of what’s happened, retell what’s happened and act on it.  Religious scholars would call this exegesis.   It’s a moving target because although genuine storytelling uses a common repository of information, the authors and the audience are constantly changing.  Thinking in story is a collective effort to hold all these features together.   

One of the recurrent themes of this blog will be this question of how to think in story.  Look for posts titled “What’s the Story” and you’ll find links to quotes, articles and our latest commentary on this issue.  Feel free to enter in the discussion.  Perhaps we’ll raise our collective NQs in the process.


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