Don’t answer that! At least not until you’ve read this book


Five things you might not know

  1. Research by Dr. Elliott Jaques and Kathryn Cason established two fundamental measures that universally apply to a leader’s capability in judgement and decision-making: i) An individual’s mental processing capability; and ii) the complexity of the information to be processed.[1] It’s set out in their book Human Capability (1994).
  2. There are “four orders of information complexity” and senior level judgement and decision-making involves a great deal of the top two.[2]
  3. There are four levels of mental processing capability and any capability below the top two is inadequate for senior level judgement and decision-making. [3]
  4. These findings were established more than twenty-years ago and are applied by organizations around the world (still too few) in evaluating leadership capability. Boards should apply them to CEOs, and CEOs to all levels of leadership (the book outlines the methodology). And America, in order to better manage its expectations, should apply these metrics to their new President.
  5. “Complexity of mental processing” (CMP) is far more than IQ and measures what IQ never has.[4]


Before you read the brief insights from the book below, take 2:45 to view a video tribute to the late Dr. Elliott Jaques (1917-2003), which celebrates his 100th birthday (Jan. 18, 2017). It serves as a wonderful introduction to the depth and breadth of the discoveries and contributions his work has made, and continues to make, to human endeavors and leadership.

I had the good fortunate of knowing and working with Elliott in the late 1990s and his genius has left an indelible imprint on leadership and the work of human organizational development through his theories of  “Requisite Organization” and “Stratified Systems Theory.”

“Dr. Jaques’ contributions are multi-disciplinary in Psychology, Sociology, Economics, Philosophy and Linguistics as represented in Jaques’ developments in our understanding of the meaning of employment work and in the evaluation and development of individuals engaged in work. His contributions to the social sciences include a method for objectively measuring the complexity of work in roles and an objective understanding of the nature of human potential capability and its maturation throughout life from infancy through old age.”

Human Capability is one of more than a dozen books written by Jaques and an integral part of more than sixty years of his work, all of which you can investigate at the Requisite Organization website.

(4 minute read)

Assessing any leader’s mental capability

Human Capability is a book to be read by anyone who wants a scientifically based, objective perspective for understanding and assessing the capability of a leader, including – especially – Donald Trump, now that he has to participate at the highest level of mental and emotional complexity. Promises, pronouncements and proclamations (not too mention tweets) are one thing, anyone can make them; whereas, consistently performing at the highest level of mental capability is totally different.

Good enough, isn’t.

Many leaders operate within their capability and we get what they are capable of, nothing more, nothing less. And too often it’s accepted as “good enough.” We know that type of leader. We see them, work for them and follow them. One of the problems is that too many of them get to their position of authority without a true measure of their mental processing capability. They don’t get there on merit but on seniority, nepotism, money, power, politics, who-they-know and a myriad of reasons that have nothing to do with their mental capability. And we have to settle for them. Because we have not applied a scientifically-based method to measure their capability. Jaques and Cason do.

Human Capability demonstrates that there are two overriding factors that can measure a person’s mental capability:

  1. First, the “level of work of a role.” How heavy is the responsibility in the role or position? What is its complexity? Jaques’ research established that the “time-span of discretion [responsibility] in a role gives an objective measurement of its level of work.”[5] The different orders of information complexity are laid out in a pattern of stratification in managerial hierarchies that relate to “time-spans,” and they progress from the least complex to the most complex, from one day to three months, 1 year, 2 years, 5 years, 10 years and 20 years. The lowest is Stratum I, the highest Stratum VII.[6] These strata “correspond to differences in the level of abstraction which have to be employed in order to make it possible for managerial leadership and authority to be exercised.”[7] In other words, the longer the time-span to which the requisite thinking must apply the higher the mental capability required for abstraction and complexity.
  2. Second is the “complexity of mental processing” (CMP). All of Chapter Two is devoted to the levels of “problem-solving capability” of individuals. The authors state that CMP is generic. “At any given stage in our development, there is an absolute maximum level at which we have the potential capability to work [problem solve]. The maximum level and its rate of maturation is innate; it is constitutionally in-built from conception. It’s maturation is unmodified by education and the amount of knowledge we may acquire, or by the particular experiences we may have had.” They structure mental processing into four levels of capability (1, 2, 3, 4 – 4 being the highest) [8]. And align them with “orders of information complexity” (A, B, C, D – D being the highest). The complexity of information at the C level is called “Abstract-Conceptual” (large corporate and large scale international political problems). The D level is called “Universals” (associated with genius). Excellent examples of mental processing capability at various levels of information complexity, direct from the research study, are found in Appendix A. All levels are illustrated but participants at the C and D are well worth perusing. [9]

Those who seek and accept the responsibilities, the authority, and the fruits of public service should be subject to the deepest possible scrutiny of their potential capability as well as their values and skilled knowledge, by the public who entrust them with the office. – Jaques and Cason.[10]

Leaders are continually measured by the results they produce, and a good measure it is. But too often they’re measured against last quarter, last year, industry comparables, available candidates and other such factors. And yet, if we are to properly measure the value of leaders should not a critical measure be their mental processing capability (not IQ)? Notwithstanding other leadership qualities, Jaques and Cason show how mental processing capability is foundational to leadership performance – and why we should ask:

  • What if the results “look good” by standard metrics but are in fact mediocre compared to what the leader is actually capable of?
  • What if the results are mediocre because that’s all the leader is mentally capable of?
  • How can we accurately measure results if we don’t know the potential mental capability of the leader?

This seminal book provides the research, theory and practices to develop a truly objective measure of any leader, at any level. And despite the level of knowledge and intelligence (IQ), it shows why mental processing capability is a difference-maker. When understood and developed within the framework of Jaques and Casons’ Requisite Organization, it can make a much-needed and fundamental contribution to the development of great leaders.

If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be. —Thomas Jefferson, 1816.

Think about it.

Happy birthday Elliott!


  1. Human Capability by Jaques & Cason, p. 23
  2. Ibid, pp. 32-33
  3. Ibid, p. 3o
  4. Ibid, p. x and p. 13
  5. Ibid, p. 6
  6. Ibid, p. 14-15
  7. Ibid p. 16
  8. Ibid p. 30
  9. Ibid p. 129
  10. Ibid p. 11