Published Online:

Exercise for a 'Triarchic' Mind: What Killed Napoleon?

Article Tools
  • PrintPrinter-Friendly
  • EmailEmail Article
  • ReprintReprints
  • CommentsComments

The following are examples of the problems posed by Robert J. Sternberg in The Triarchic Mind:

[W]e identified three types of knowledge-acquisition processes that, separately or together, seem to be required in solving most insight problems: selection and "encoding" of relevant information--that is, understanding what information is relevant to solving the problem and how it is relevant; combination of different and seemingly unrelated bits of useful information; and comparison of the problem under consideration with problems previously encountered. ...

[C]ombine the use of the three insight skills--selective encoding, selective combination, and selective comparison--in solving the scientific-insight problem that follows:

Napoleon surrendered to the British in 1815. The British sent him into exile on the island of St. Helena because they wanted to eliminate any possibility that he would rebuild his army. Napoleon and a few attendants were sent to Longwood House, a moldy, damp house, which, as their only concession to the once-powerful emperor, the British repapered in green-and-gold wallpaper.

Over the past few years, Dr. Stan Forshufrud has studied the medical accounts of Napoleon's last months on St. Helena. The scientist developed a theory that Napoleon was deliberately and systematically poisoned with arsenic by his enemies. Napoleon's symptoms were classic for arsenic poisoning: shivering, swelling of the limbs, and repeated gastric upsets. Napoleon's companions in exile also suffered from these symptoms.

Another scientist, Dr. David Jones, has been studying the uses of arsenic over the years. This is his report:

"By 1800, a popular and cheap dye, 'Scheele green,' was used in paints, fabrics, and wallpapers. The dye was arsenic. As long as the wallpaper, fabric, or paint was dry, it was quite harmless. But once it got wet--from condensation, rising damp, or whatever--it could go moldy. To survive on the wallpaper, the mold must somehow get rid of the arsenic. Many molds convert it to a vapor."


What do you think might have caused Napoleon's death?


Napoleon's death was caused by arsenic poisoning from the arsenic that was present in the wallpaper. Due to the dampness of the house, the wallpaper became wet and moldy. The mold's exudation containing arsenic was mixed with the air that Napoleon was breathing constantly.

Below is a section of our tacit-knowledge questionnaire for business managers. Answer the questions, putting yourself in the position of a business manager. ...

The questions ask you to rate the importance you would assign to various items in making work-related decisions and judgments. Use a scale of 1 to 7: A 1 should signify "not important," whereas a 7 should signify "extremely important."


1. Your company has sent you to a university to recruit and interview potential trainees for management positions. Rate the importance of the following student characteristics by the extent to which they lead to later success in business:

a. ability to set priorities according to the importance of your task

b. motivation

c. ability to follow through and bring tasks to completion

d. ability to promote your ideas and to convince others of the worth of your work

e. the need to win at everything, no matter what the cost.

2. Rate the following strategies of working according to how important you believe them to be for doing well at the day-to-day work of a business manager:

a. Think in terms of tasks accomplished rather than hours spent working.

b. Be in charge of all phases of every task or project you are involved with.

c. Use a daily list of goals arranged according to your priorities.

d. Carefully consider the optimal strategy before beginning a task.

e. Reward yourself upon completion of important tasks.


Answers are in the form of plus and minus signs. A plus indicates a higher rating (for example, a score of 4 or above) by individuals more advanced in the field relative to individuals less advanced in the field. A minus sign indicates a relatively lower numerical rating by individuals more advanced in the field:
. a. +

b. -

c. +

d. -

e. +

2. a. +

b. +

c. +

d. -

e. -

Copyright 1988 by Robert J. Sternberg. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission of the publisher.

Web Only

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Login | Register
Ground Rules for Posting
We encourage lively debate, but please be respectful of others. Profanity and personal attacks are prohibited. By commenting, you are agreeing to abide by our user agreement.
All comments are public.

Back to Top Back to Top

Most Popular Stories