Ungifted (Scott Barry Kaufman) - Book Summary

By pointing out the weaknesses of the IQ test, the author has come up with a very convincing theory about the factors that make people smarter.

The book is the right choice for

  • Students majoring in education and psychology;
  • Parents and teachers;
  • Anyone who has ever been considered "unintelligent".

A few lines about the author

As a child, Scott Barry Kaufman was diagnosed with a learning disability, but later passed the entrance exam to study at Carnegie Mellon University, Yale and Cambridge. Besides co-founding The Creativity Post, he also contributed to the development of Scientific Imagination and served as director at the Imagination Institute at the Center for Positive Psychology, University of Pennsylvania.

Chapter 1. The greatest value that the book brings: The change in readers' beliefs about human intelligence and natural talent.

We all claim to be very thoughtful, but if an expert told you that you're not smart at all, would you believe it? Would you give up your literary dream if you were told that people with below average intelligence cannot make a successful work?

While this is just an experiment that makes you psychologically stressed, thousands of children are suffering from it every day.

But will these children not be able to succeed? This is one of the questions the book will answer. In addition, readers will also learn about the origins of intelligence assessments, find out the factors that distinguish an average violinist from other talented musicians, and access A whole new perspective on innate intelligence.

In addition, the book will cover:

  • Two Nobel laureates were once considered incompetent;
  • Reasons why praising a child will make them afraid of a challenge;
  • The mission of a dream leader

Chapter 2. Not only biological genes, the educational environment also affects the development of children.

Until now, biological genes have always been considered to be the determining factors of human intelligence and personality. Recently, although there has been a slight change, this view is still very popular in the community.

The degree of influence of genes only accounts for a very small proportion in shaping a person's nature. Intelligence Quotient (IQ) is a prime example of this view. One IQ study analyzed 500,000 marker genes (genes that differentiate individuals) in more than 3,500 participants. As a result, the total number of these genes accounts for only about 40% to 50% of the factors that make a difference in human intelligence.

Not only IQ, there are many physical characteristics that are also created by the interaction between genes. Therefore, biological genes are an important factor, but the development environment of children also has a significant influence on their personality and abilities. Imagine two children in the same class, while one can read fluently, the other still cannot spell. What will happen next? Can that disparity be evened out?

Unfortunately, the answer is no! Children who excel will continue to read and learn better as time goes on. They even just want to play with friends of the same level. On the contrary, the other child will feel even more depressed and become afraid of learning to read. From there, their vocabulary will develop very slowly or worse, stand still. As a result, by the end of the school year, the gap in proficiency between the two children is even bigger than it was at the beginning.

Chapter 3. Although widely used, the IQ test is not an effective method.

The method of measuring intelligence quotient (IQ) was first developed in 1990 by Alfred Binet and quickly became the standard for measuring intelligence. Through a few changes, its principle is still maintained today. Not long after that, schools in France adopted this method to separate students with lower perception so as not to affect their classmates. However, Binet did not support this action at all.

According to Binet's original version, test takers have to solve 30 questions within 20 minutes. Today, the method evaluates 7 types of intelligence indexes (logical-mathematical intelligence; linguistic-lexical intelligence; visual-spatial intelligence; bodily intelligence; musical intelligence; internal intelligence. mind; interactive intelligence) is widely used not only to determine the level of intelligence but also to help children orient their careers.

In many countries, psychologists rely solely on intelligence to assess whether a child is cognitively incompetent or very talented. If in the first group, the child's parents will be advised not to send their child to certain subjects or even to pursue certain professions in the future.

However, IQ tests are not completely reliable because the way children perform at each time and in each test is not uniform. Take for example Brianna, a girl who has 3 different IQs across three separate tests, ranging from 105 (average intelligence) to 125 (talented).

In addition, a person's intelligence index changes with each age stage.

It can be concluded that this is just one of the tools to assess the level of human intelligence. There are many other factors that will affect a child's success such as hard work or a right mindset.

Chapter 4. Serious practice and a growth mindset will lead you to success.

Excellence in any field requires not only a rigorous training process to correct deficiencies, but also the right guidance from experienced teachers.

A study of training conducted at the Academy of Music in West Berlin showed that most violinists spend 50-60 hours a week practicing no matter how skilled they are. From this, it can be concluded that what makes a great violinist is not talent, but hard practice. With guidance from the teacher, they focus on mastering each part of the song and then move on to the next part.

As of their 18th birthday, talented violinists have practiced for a total of 7410 hours. This number is even higher than the practice hours of violinists playing in the medieval international orchestra (7336 hours).

The next element of human success is a growth mindset. Carol Dweck, a psychologist at Stanford, was the first to use the terms growth mindset and fixed mindset to describe people.

A person with a fixed mindset will think that people are born with a certain level of talent that cannot be changed. Therefore, when they get a bad grade in Math, they immediately give up this subject because they think they have no natural ability with it. A child will think in a fixed way if their achievements are attributed to innate abilities by adults.

In contrast, the growth mindset type believes that human skills can be improved through practice. So, if we fail, it's just because we haven't worked hard enough. This type of person usually will not succumb to challenges or failures, and they are also not afraid to try new experiences.

It can be concluded that a growth mindset will bring a much better result.

Chapter 5. Intelligence (IQ) will not show creativity, a very important element of talent.

Creativity is a very difficult thing to define, we only know that it is important, but we cannot explain specifically what it is or where it comes from. Creativity is a tool for developing new and effective ideas. Therefore, this is a very important factor in solving the problem.

Since IQ can only simulate a person's ability to think logically in specific problems, it cannot say anything about creativity. More than just being smart, a creative person must cover all aspects of a complex problem in the most careful and meticulous way.

Many researchers have tried methods to assess children's creativity. In 1921, Lewis Terman failed in his attempt to demonstrate a strong connection between human intelligence and creativity. He formed a group of students with very high IQ (151). Later, Terman found that they were not only talented (with richer vocabulary and better memories, for example) but also healthier, taller, and more adaptable than their peers.

35 years later, according to Terman's results, summarizing the achievements of that group of people, there are 2,000 scientific articles, 60 books, 33 novels, 375 short stories and many more. Although impressive, the results above show that none of them are outstanding innovators, in other words, they cannot revolutionize their field or win a certain award. However, two students who were once excluded by Terman from this group of people because of their unqualified intelligence scores ended up winning two Nobel Prizes in Physics.

Chapter 6. Theory of mind is a method of assessing human intelligence in a more comprehensive way.

Until recently, the method to evaluate human intelligence began to have great changes thanks to a new theory of Kaufman. Traditional theories often ignore the link between passion, determination, and intelligence. They are based only on how people deal with abstract problems in the same tests and ignore the process of them coping with difficulties and pursuing their dreams in real life.

According to Kaufman, intelligence is something much more comprehensive than that. It reflects a person's ability to connect with their own passion and determination. Since acting with real wisdom will bring us closer to our goal,  Kaufman's New Theory of Mind  will not compare everyone's IQ. This doctrine is based on four teachings.

The first is the person themselves, it includes all the characteristics that make them who they are. We must take this into account when evaluating a person's efforts on the path towards his dream.

The next teaching is dedication to the work being done. When we put our heart into anything, we all learn valuable skills and experiences. In order for training to have the best effect, besides ability, it must also be accompanied by enthusiasm.

Next, to achieve the goal does not necessarily mean that we have to think clearly and define it from the beginning. For jobs where the results cannot be determined (such as scientific research), spontaneous creative thinking will be much more useful.

According to the last teaching, there is no fixed and orthodox method of measuring intelligence for predicting human success. Scientists think that it takes an average of ten years for each person to completely conquer a certain field. However, this is just a prediction, there is no rule that can predict the success of each person.

"Don't compare yourself to others, compare your past and present selves."

Chapter 7. Education reform will help people access a new understanding of intelligence.

Almost every child in the world agrees that the standards of educational methods need to be changed to bring more benefits and meaning. When we put all our energy into achieving a certain goal, it is also when we learn the most necessary skills. So, if the purpose of education is to maximize people's potential, then it needs to focus on what interests them.

The Future Project, founded by two Yale graduates, is a promising new educational approach. They form groups of students who share a common desire to reform the community, and a mentor helps them turn that idea into a project. The Future Project brings “dream leaders” into schools and sets up a guidance system to help students find their own future “projects”.

In addition, technology is also an effective means of making education more practical and interesting. If we really want to implement educational reform, instead of using IQ to predict success, we need to consider the level of interest and enthusiasm of children.

Shimon Schocken, a professor of computer science, made Math more interesting and engaging with two mobile games. The students participating in the game have the task of dividing apples equally into the bowls to receive scores. At the same time, the system has the task of monitoring and evaluating the process of you playing.

Technology products like this will turn learning into a tool for entertainment, which is more suitable for the development of children. The traditional education system has not been able to keep up with today's outstandingly intelligent children!


Not only children who are less intelligent, but also children with natural talents will be negatively affected by the hasty judgments of adults about their intelligence. Instead of using numbers derived from IQ tests hundreds of years ago, we need to begin to realize the fullness and flexibility of the mind. Finally, to change the way people see it, we need to carry out educational reform.

Lesson learned

Ask the kids what they want to learn.

Children deserve to be involved in choosing their learning direction. The easiest way to know what your children really want is to ask them directly