You Need More Than A High IQ

Knowing how something originated often is the best clue to how it works.”

— Terrence Deacon

The good news: IQ levels are higher today than they were 100 years ago—and continue to increase.

The bad news: Higher IQs aren’t making us smarter.

In a recent interview with the BBC, James Flynn said, “the major intellectual thing that disturbs me is that young people . . . are reading less history and less serious novels than [they] used to.”

From Flynn’s perspective, this lack of reading makes us ripe for an Orwellian dystopia. “All you need are ‘ahistorical’ people who then live in the bubble of the present, and by fashioning that bubble the government and the media can do anything they want with them.”

He’s right. George Santanaya wasn’t joking when he said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Then there’s this quote, also from that BBC interview:

“Reading literature and reading history is the only thing that’s going to capitalise on the IQ gains of the 20th Century and make them politically relevant.”

Let’s take politics out of it and focus in on the individual.

Even at the very basic level, as in considering your personal career goals, being “ahistorical” is a recipe for disaster.

As we’ve spent more time on this site discussing the development and sharing of creative work, emails have continued to stream in from individuals, requesting Steve mentor them, that Steve take a look at their project, that Steve introduce them to people who can help them, that Steve tell them how to fix their personal lives, and so on . . .

I used to blame Laziness for these emails. While Laziness ain’t completely off the hook, Rational Ignorance is the better hook on which to hang their cluelessness.

Just as I haven’t learned how to fix my washing machine, because the investment of time and money spent learning how to fix my washing machine outweighs simply paying a specialist to fix it, individuals e-mailing Steve think that the investment of time and money spent learning their desired trade outweighs the effort to simply ask Steve for help.

These individuals don’t realize that they’re screwing themselves. Rather than asking someone else the answer to 892 + 1297, or using a calculator to figure it out, they’d benefit from knowing how to do simple addition themselves.

And, if they continue to resist learning how to do something themselves, the answers to most of their questions are already out there.

We live in the age of information. “Content” is flying at us from all direction. The answers are on the record.

And yet…

The e-mails keep coming in.

Back to Flynn.

During the BBC interview, it sounds like Flynn gave the interviewer grief for not knowing about the Thirty Years War.

I’m not taking it that far.

I’m keeping it basic.

Start with your own life.

Stop e-mailing and asking others for an “in.”

Understand the history.

Know the players.

Master the business.

Do the work yourself.

Tomorrow you can hit the Thirty Years War.

Posted in


Read this one first.
It identifies the enemy—what I call Resistance with a capital “R,” i.e. fear, self-doubt, procrastination, perfectionism, all the forms of self-sabotage—that stop us from doing our work and realizing our dreams.
Start here.
Everything else proceeds from this.



  1. Mary Doyle on October 7, 2016 at 6:06 am

    Callie, we can always count on you to tell it like it is – thanks for this right-between-the-eyes post that expands on Flynn’s point. If we don’t know where we came from, we can be lead anywhere by anyone (and it’s hard to leave politics aside, but I will). I’m grateful that I was born a few generations back and didn’t have the option of surface-learning on the internet.

    As for the bombardment of emails from people looking for that short-cut, it’s unfortunate that they don’t realize that the cost of trying to buy one’s way in as opposed to doing the work is forfeiting the journey itself and all of the unexpected gifts that come along with it.

  2. Susan on October 7, 2016 at 6:17 am

    Just Bravo!!

  3. tony levelle on October 7, 2016 at 6:35 am

    Tim Grahl’s Storygrid podcast has turned into a 50+ hour online “course” that teaches how to go from idea to working novel.

  4. Hugh Nicklin on October 7, 2016 at 6:35 am

    There are no short cuts. If you want to write, then you need to read a lot and write and write and write and write… listen to a lot of critical feedback, edit, and try again. No magic bullet – just hard graft.

  5. Melanie Ormand on October 7, 2016 at 6:39 am

    Interesting that IQ’s are higher but literacy levels are lower.

  6. Maureen Anderson on October 7, 2016 at 6:39 am

    Busted! And sorry! Part one of two. 🙂

  7. Gabby on October 7, 2016 at 7:02 am

    I think there is an important thread underlying people’s trying first to exploit any possible connections. People are bombarded today with the message that opportunities are primarily about “who you know.” This is a message people receive in any area in which a person needs to raise his profile from a pack.
    Bringing quality content to the table as well is a step some people think they can skip if their self-marketing is good enough.

  8. Currer Bell on October 7, 2016 at 7:54 am

    I had a similar experiences with a networking lunch. A fellow filmmaker, who is net at a conference where I presented had reached out. I was really looking forward to connecting with someone in my field. He spent the lunch complaining about the community, sharing bitter stories about failed projects, then asked me for my contacts. We all have moments when we need to vent or ask for help, but I think it’s knowing when it is appropriate and when’s it is not. Honestly, I didn’t respond to his follow up email.

  9. Erika Viktor on October 7, 2016 at 8:03 am

    Ask not what Steve can do for you, but what you can do for Steve.

    – John F Kennedy

  10. Michael Beverly on October 7, 2016 at 8:07 am

    My fifteen-year-old is reading Of Human Bondage, and she tells me it’s one of her favorite books ever.

    So, there’s a few anomalies out there.

    I grew up on genre fiction, mostly, and didn’t care about history until I was in my 30s.

    One of the reasons I respect you guys so much is that you’re not always trying to monetize and exploit the hungry audience of wanna-be creative professionals as so many others have done.


  11. Robin on October 7, 2016 at 8:42 am

    I agree with your main premise that IQ alone isn’t enough to make you smart, and further, that there is no substitute for quality literature to nuture the non linear mind and touch the heart, and history for its power to teach political-social-psychological patterns (destructive or constructive) to understand their impact in context, and to quite literally, learn from the past – ours and the worlds.

    But there’s something else that your post brought up for me that is worth mentioning. It’s not at all meant to disagree with your plea to “do the work” before or instead of asking for (the) an answer. It’s that in this culture of overnight, self-appointed online experts spewing “the 7 steps to instant success on everything from marketing to how to make cupcakes (nothing against cupcakes!), that when you stumble upon or find the real deal – for example, with this website particular website, Steve and his team – among others, it’s not surprising that some in the audience will reach out and ask for advice.

    I do believe that the world is hungry for quality. At least I am. Thank you for offering it on this forum and in you and your teams posts.

  12. Erik Dolson on October 7, 2016 at 11:17 am

    Steve’s post on Wednesday asks, “What kind of writer are you?” This post takes the question a step deeper: “Who are you? Looking for a map, or a shortcut?”

    As writer, and as a person, do I not know the path or am I conflicted by my goals? Do I want to create quality work, or just be a “writer?” My muse leaves the room when my focus is on self instead of the art.

    The “master-to-apprentice” messages from Steve, Shawn and Callie are very consistent: “Here are tools, here’s how you use them.”

    Many out there are willing to take advantage of those who want to be “writers.” Far fewer bring their knowledge, energy and integrity to the table to show us how to create work of authentic quality.

    Our current political oligarchy was described by Plato more than 2,000 years ago in The Republic.

  13. Tina M Goodman on October 7, 2016 at 11:24 am

    If you want to be mentored by Steven Pressfield, read his books and read through his blog. He’s very busy with his own writing. I don’t think he has time for any one-on-one schooling, no matter how much money you are willing to pay.

  14. Scrivener on October 7, 2016 at 1:32 pm

    I take my washing down to the river and beat it with a stick.

    I re-invented that.

    No damn government is going to tell me where or how to do my dirty laundry – or where to hang it out.

    I like history, I can trace my family tree back until when they lived in it. They all went down to the river to do their dirty laundry. Probably did other things as well – or I wouldn’t be here. Their cave paintings were crap though – probably should have got advice from Steve. Come to think of it that was my father’s name – and my middle name – I think it means, ‘beat it with a stick.’

  15. Sean Crawford on October 7, 2016 at 6:21 pm

    As a boy I figured reading nonfiction about history was so that I could enjoy reading historical novels. …Jeez, maybe I could write one, instead of science fiction…

    Back in the day, every young co-ed was reading Of Human Bondage. I’ve read it twice. My mistake was reading the abridged version for my second go-through, because my two favourite parts had been taken out.

    At my age I won’t read it again, anymore than I will read Game of Thrones series again, or Lord of the Rings yet again (When the movie came out, I knew some of the dialogue in advance) I don’t have the time now.

  16. Tina on October 7, 2016 at 6:48 pm

    I do not recall this quote. I should go back and re-read my JFK history books.

  17. Scrivener on October 7, 2016 at 11:41 pm

    Yes, it’s not only a matter having the time for any one-on-one schooling- it is also a matter of how much time is left.
    Every day is precious. So is every minute, and as they disappear down the funnel of the hourglass of time there are fewer and fewer and I can see them vanishing before my eyes.
    The only things that can divert my gaze from my diminishing days are chocolate, light fruit cake or a pretty girl. The first two are relatively harmless.
    I guess the moral of the story is that if you want help, send chocolate… or fruit cake.

  18. Tina on October 8, 2016 at 12:31 am

    I could send you a photo of a pretty girl. You could spend hours gazing at it. Chocolate and light fruit cake are not healthful, they can shorten the time you have left.

  19. Jay Cadmus on October 8, 2016 at 10:18 am

    Right-on, Ms. Callie!
    Half the fun in attainment is in the journey getting there.
    The learning form is in reaching all the twists and turns; dead-ends; and forks in the road.
    We used to talk about the “something for nothing” society.
    Asking someone else to fix your problem makes you dependent.
    (I’m not talking on a political platform or in a judgemental stance.)
    Like you, I implore the “young” of age – and in mind – to grow into the changing beings we become.

  20. Sean Crawford on October 8, 2016 at 8:07 pm

    I happen to be Canadian, maybe that explains my perspective:

    Soon after the war on drugs was declared by Reagan I knew the U.S. was doomed to lose as I swiftly realized folks wouldn’t learn from Vietnam.

    You know: hearts and minds, the Ugly American elite not leaving cozy Saigon, not asking the common villager/townsfolk what they thought, not learning the cultural terrain, no interdepartmental cooperation, hiding and falsifying data, citizens not becoming informed—even the leaders in Washington couldn’t pass a simple community college test on Nam.

    I swear there were more “get involved” Reader’s Digest articles during the cold war than during the war on drugs. You can’t win if you won’t learn…

  21. Scrivener on October 9, 2016 at 8:29 am

    Yep! All great empires and imperial nations eventually pass away as they become more and more inwardly focussed. Problem is they call their kids anything but ‘Steve’. No one to ask. No one to guide. No one with memory. No one called Steve.

  22. Nick Shanagher on October 9, 2016 at 11:12 am


  23. James on October 9, 2016 at 10:29 pm

    Seems to me that being intelligent is a disability. Sadly it is not listed in google as a handicap and no jobs are ever advertised for this quality; more likely for “team players” and equality amongst the commons. And intelligence certainly is in the minority which is confirmed everyday by cnn and the like. More likely to be ridiculed for being different or heaven forbid; weird. Perhaps it is better to be non intelligent and blissfully unaware, but as has been stated here, if we are one or the other, that’s just how it is. Nevertheless, tis lovely to read what others have written and know we are not really alone … afterall.

  24. Karen Fridie-Burke on October 10, 2016 at 11:47 am

    You’ve hit the nail right on its head!

  25. Karen Fridie-Burke on October 10, 2016 at 11:51 am

    She just reshaped it a bit. Instead of “Steve” he referred to “your country.”

  26. Karen Fridie-Burke on October 10, 2016 at 11:59 am

    You are hilarious! Keep it up and you will experience long life. Extra chocolate cake and all(:

  27. David Kaufmann on October 15, 2016 at 7:15 pm

    The phrase “War on Drugs” came out of a press conference Nixon gave in 1971. Not Reagan. Just another of Nixon’s messes.

  28. David Kaufmann on October 15, 2016 at 7:20 pm

    “Back in the day” you had to do it yourself. There weren’t thousands of how-to, self-help writing books. Authors didn’t have email addresses. (No one did.:) And to get a home address meant you had to have access to a phone book, and if you didn’t live in the same city as the author…Even if you did, it just wasn’t done. Mail was sent to the publisher or to a P.O. Box.

    “Back in the day” you got help from an editor who’d write a word or two on your rejected submission. Then the word or two became a few suggestions, and perhaps a request for re-submission.

    That was it. Oh, there was the occasional kid with chutzpah who clicked with a Big Name Author and got some one-on-one guidance. Sort of an apprenticeship.

    There were advantages then, there are advantages now. But “Do the Work” (what a great title for a book – oh, it already is a great book) always applies – then, now and tomorrow.

    Thanks, Callie.

  29. Sean Crawford on October 18, 2016 at 10:57 pm

    It was Reagan who brought in a war-time collateral damage such as zero tolerance, not to mention TV commercials and the first lady’s involvement. The war was in the news a lot.

    I remember telling my rehabilitation class that the new war was “a farce.” Turns out my department head, who was teaching the class, had just been to a conference in Toronto where she had been seated at dinner beside the chief of Toronto police. He had told her the war was “a farce.” Too bad the American people didn’t know.

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