Contextual Intelligence as leadership requirement to navigate 4IR

In my article on what I perceive to be the leadership requirements necessary to navigate the Fourth Industrial Revolution, I introduced a 10-type intelligence proposition I dubbed “Fourth Industrial Revolution Intelligence Model”, or “4IRI-model” for short. The 4IRI-model covers Contextual-, Emotional-, Inspired-, Physical-, Entrepreneurial-, Strategic-, Transdisciplinary-, Ecosystem-, Socratic-, and Ethical intelligence, and over the next couple of weeks I will unpack each of the ten intelligence types, drawing on the work of various scholars in an attempt to justify my proposition. This post then, starts off the 10-type intelligence framework discussion with a synopsis on Contextual Intelligence…

From a perspective of a contextual sub-theory of intelligence, Sternberg (1985) views intelligence as “mental activity directed toward purposeful adaptation to, and selection and shaping of, real-world environments relevant to one’s life.” The situation in which purposeful action is taken, is thus emphasised, with Brown, Gould and Foster (2005) adding that contextual intelligence (CI) has to do with practical know-how that transcends what is formally described or taught directly, requiring understanding of the context in which one functions; not only knowing what to do, but also knowing how to get it done.

Similarly, Kutz (2008) defines contextual intelligence as “the ability to quickly and intuitively recognise and diagnose the dynamic contextual variables inherent in an event or circumstance and results in intentional adjustment of behaviour in order to exert appropriate influence in that context.” Context has to do with the nature of relations and inter-dependencies among and between agents (e.g., people, ideas, values, experiences, cultures, etc.), political alliances, organisations, religious alignment, social contexts, and private context. Therefore, contextual intelligence refers to the awareness of these interactions between agents that fundamentally inform behaviour in a social complex environment (Kutz & Bamford-Wade, 2013)

Tarun (2014), contesting that insufficient attention has been paid to context in the field of management, further adds that contextual intelligence is “the ability to understand the limits of our knowledge and to adapt that knowledge to an environment different from the one in which it was developed.” Schwab (2016) furthers that “sense of context is defined as the ability and willingness to anticipate emerging trends and connect the dots. These have been common characteristics of effective leadership across generations and, in the fourth industrial revolution, they are a prerequisite for adaptation and survival.”

Consequently, it is imperative that leaders understand the value of diverse networks across traditional boundaries, and develop their capacity and readiness to engage with all stakeholders related to the matter at hand. To acquire a holistic view of the situation, leaders should pursue a multi-stakeholder orientation that transcends the increasingly counterproductive boundaries between sectors and professions. In addition, the capability to re-frame mental and conceptual models and organisational philosophies is essential. Leaders failing in this will find it challenging to adjust to the disruptions of 4IR (Schwab, 2016).


Brown, C.H., Gould, D. & Foster, S. 2005. A Framework for Developing Contextual Intelligence (CI). The Sport Psychologist, 19(1):51-62.

Kutz, M.R. & Bamford-Wade, A. 2013. Understanding Contextual Intelligence: A Critical Competency for Today’s Leaders. Emergence: Complexity & Organization, 15(3):55-80.

Kutz, M.R. 2008. Toward a Conceptual Model of Contextual Intelligence: A Transferable Leadership Construct. Leadership Review, Kravis Leadership Institute, Claremont McKenna College, 8:18-31.

Schwab, K.M. 2016. The Fourth Industrial Revolution. World Economic Forum, Geneva, Switzerland.

Sternberg, R.J. 1985. Beyond IQ: A triarchic theory of human intelligence. Cambridge University Press, London:UK.

Tarun, K. 2014. Contextual Intelligence. Harvard Business Review, 92(9):59-68.

Cobus Oosthuizen, PhD

Cobus is the Dean of Milpark Business School in Johannesburg, South Africa, and the founder of 4IR Forum.

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