[The Lure of “Can’t Miss” Talent] How Do You Measure Heart & Chutzpah?

Sonia Sotomayor, U.S. Supreme Court justice

Sonia Sotomayor, U.S. Supreme Court justice

Like the song of the Sirens , for some people the “right” backgrounds or the “right” personality test scores suggest “can’t miss” – the certainty that someone who comes from certain schools, certain environments, certain zip codes, or certain Meyers-Briggs personality profiles will be predictably successful.

You’d be wrong: predicting success in business or life does just doesn’t work that way.

For college graduates the path of assumed predictable business success in the United States runs through the Ivy’s – Harvard, Princeton, Yale, etc. or their alternative universe – Chicago, Stanford, or UC-Berkeley. Go to one of those schools, do well, and your future is guaranteed.

Malcolm Gladwell does a great job of debunking some of the hubris surrounding “can’t miss” in his latest book Outliers . In his latest book he tracks winners of the some of the Nobel Prize categories who are from the United States. The not-so-big surprise? Winners come from colleges large and small, well known and largely unknown.

In the latest flap about employment testing emanating from the recent Ricci Supreme Court case ruling on employment discrimination, some employers are ready to ramp up testing. Maria Konev, a Human Resources manager with Liquid Transport Corporation was noted in the Wall Street Journal as saying she sometimes uses personality tests to help choose between equally qualified candidates for jobs or promotions, and would like to use the tests more frequently.

The problem is that any of the tests, such as having any of the right background attributes, are suggestive at best. And while suggestive is great for some things like choosing restaurants and vacation spots, it fails the higher bar for any number of other things. There is no background or personality test that ferrets out smarts and courage like pilot Chelsey Sullenberger , the most effective CEOs, or judges with smarts, drive, heart and passion like Sonia Sotomayor.

The problem, like the search for the magic diet pill, is that people want things easy and predictable.

Life, however, is more often messy and complicated. And that’s what keeps it interesting.

More to come.

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