Nature Versus Nurture

Nature Versus Nurture

Nature Versus Nurture

This article is edited from the transcript of the presentation made to F+S India colleagues in May 2021. I am sharing here after removing company-specific information and editing it in an easy-to-read article format. Please feel free to share ahead.

‘Nature versus Nurture’ is a long-debated topic in the study of human behaviour. This article discusses this in the context of career progression at individual level and skill requirements from an organizational perspective.

First let’s understand the concept with the help of two images.

This is a beautiful natural setting. Mother Earth has been kind to this part of the globe. However, for something like this to happen, we need a lot of kindness from Mother Earth and only a very few lucky spots on map enjoy this kindness.

Now, let’s review the second image below.

Here, Mother Earth has been kind, but partially. She gave them fertile land and a good environment. Someone else then nurtured this piece of land into a beautiful garden.

Human Context

In the context of us Homo-sapiens, Nature is what we get at birth, i.e., ‘Genes’ and Nurture is what we develop over a lifetime via observation and practice. The environment around us, i.e., our social circle, plays a very important part in our nurturing process.

Very few people are born with the genes that can be equated to image 1, and majority of us would more closely associate with the conditions presented in image 2.

Now let’s go further and see what research says on this important topic.

One of the good studies on this topic is by Dr. Nancy Segal, Professor of Psychology at California  State University. She studied identical twins, fraternal twins, and virtual twins to analyze the impact of genes and environment on our overall personality. She studied multiple  combinations, 

Identical twins were raised apart. (Same gene code, but different environment.)

Virtual twins raised together. (There is no biological connection, but the same environment.)

Fraternal twins were raised together and separated. (Biological twins with partially different genes, but the same environment)


A small part of the research is reproduced below.

I hope that the difference between Nature and Nurture is clear by now. Research makes it clear that while intelligence (IQ: intelligence quotient) is mostly driven by nature (genes), the behaviour and emotional intelligence (EQ: Emotional Quotient) are greatly influenced by our upbringing and social circle. The good news is that it can be nurtured.

Now, what is more important, IQ or EQ? A logical follow-up question  is if I am born with an average or low IQ, can I make it big in my professional career? Let’s find answers to these questions in subsequent paragraphs.

Several HR professionals and psychologists have concluded that

IQ gives a floor effect and EQ drives variance which can decide how high you can go (or your ability to reach higher levels).

Floor Effect: Generally speaking, your grades in school, entrance exams to universities, and  campus placements measure IQ as a dominant metric, therefore IQ decides your starting level  in most cases. Of course,  you have to do the required hard work but your IQ has a great  influence on the university you attend and subsequently the first job that you get or the  career you select. (We are talking of merit-based education only, this article assumes that the   readers are all meritorious middle-class professionals). 

After you get your floor, IQ is no longer a differentiating factor, as most of your peer group will also belong to similar IQ band.

High Variance: Remember that in a typical corporate hierarchy, a vacancy on a higher floor is  always lower than the population on the floor below it. To enter the floor above, you will need  high variance versus your peer group, and that variance is provided by your Emotional  Intelligence (EQ). This is good news because EQ can be nurtured. 

In corporate history, we have many examples of people starting at a very basic level and rising up the ladder to reach the top management cadre. One such example is of Mr. Sidney Weinberg. Please read about his story using this link. Another inspiring story is of Mr. Richard Montanez at PepsiCo, more about him in this link. Yet another inspiring story is of Mr. William L McKnight of 3M fame. He joined 3M as a librarian and went on to become one of the most successful CEO of the corporation.

If you search a bit more, you will find that history is replete with thousands of rags-to-stories. The common thread in most such success stories is the high EQ of the protagonist.

Emotional Intelligence In Practice

Some of the common EQ competencies as defined by Mr. Daniel Goleman who wrote extensively on Emotional Intelligence are:

  • Self-Awareness
  • Self-Management
  • Motivation
  • Empathy
  • Social Skills
  • Relationship Management (Empathy + Assertiveness = Relationships).

The above list is a bit generic, so to put it in an organizational context, I would copy a well- practiced concept from Unilever. They evaluate following skills depending on job levels.

Job Level Evaluation Criteria
Junior Management Drive
Middle Management Influence
Higher Management Judgement

The below table summarizes few common adjectives for a person with these skills. Needless to say, this list is selective and not exhaustive.

Drive Influence Judgement
Persistent Relatable Visualizer
Energetic Assertive Courageous
Passionate Compassionate Dispassionate

To make it a bit more descriptive, I summarize below relative importance of various success factors depending on the job level.

How to Nurture EQ

A few tips to nurture your EQ are listed below.

  • Reading and Observing: Read about successful people and organisations. Observe the EQ competencies of people around you. Biographies are an excellent source.
  • Observe your patterns: Look within and check what is stopping your progress. What is giving you stress? Reflections will help.
  • Feedback: Seek feedback from people you respect to get a good perspective on your blind spots.
  • Practice: Practice to cultivate new habits.
  • Get a Coach / Mentor: If you can afford and feel the need, get a coach or a mentor.

One point on IQ

Before I get trolled by the IQ proponents, let me add a caveat. IQ may not be a big  differentiating factor; however, it is a requirement anyway. In this rapidly evolving and fast-changing  technological age, learning new skills is not a choice but a necessity. Never lose sight  of new technological trends in your domain, and periodically upgrade yourself. IQ is a hygiene  factor; the presence of it may not make a huge difference, but the absence of it will be a hindrance to your progress. 

I sum up with this quote by David Caruso:

It is very important to understand that emotional intelligence is not the opposite of intelligence, it is not the triumph of heart over head – it is the unique intersection of both.

 David Caruso

 Best Luck! Ashish M.

May – 2021

[email protected]

Category: Nature

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