Intelligence is Overrated. Here’s How to Really Spot Someone who Can Succeed

Viewed in Fast Company

Today’s economics professors maintain an extraordinary depth of their discipline, but cynics may respond that what they hold in knowledge they lack in actual practical application of this knowledge in a real profit and loss functional role.  

Business leaders, conversely, maintain  extraordinary practical experiences with profit and loss responsibilities and all the factors associated with them. Yet, they sometimes lack the depth of exposure, at least in an ongoing way, to the academic foundations of their profession.

Identifying energizers, creatives, and winners

So when a leading academic and business leader come together to co-author an article or study, as George Mason University economics chair Tyler Cowen and entrepreneur Daniel Gross, founder of Cue and Pioneer, did in Fast Company last month, their conclusions deserve our serious consideration.

Cowen and Gross have authored a new book, Talent: How to Identify Energizers, Creatives, and Winners Around the World. In this article, they share an abbreviated five conclusive points represented in their book about identifying talent.

Finding and cultivating talents

The first is a fact reflected statistically: Talent is valuable. How valuable? Well, $552 trillion valuable. That, the authors contend, is the total potential productive value of the world’s talent market. Yet, last we looked, the total value of current economic output measured by global domestic product is a fraction of that, only $84.71 trillion.

That means a lot of talent is sitting on the sidelines, either with impeded access to the workforce by some barrier, or not employers are perhaps not sufficiently engaged in finding and cultivating this sidelined talent.

Attracting ecosystem

Second, then, is an obvious point: The best way to do find this untapped talent, they argue, is by getting talented people “to want to find you.”  Friedrich Hayek, an icon in the academic discipline of economics, described this as a “decentralized mechanism.”

In our day-to-day communications and work, we should remember that we are always projecting a message and brand about ourselves and the organizations we represent. What this means, of course, is that it is essential that we project the sort of image and brand that will be enticing to those we seek to  attract or recruit.

Conversational hiring

Third, once quality talent is identified or approaches an organization, the interview process remains essential, and there is room for improvement in how that process functions currently.  

Hiring organizations need to ensure that interviews are conversational, not overly structured. This permits an interviewer to garner insight into the candidate in a more authentic way since most candidates will have prepared mentally for how to answer the most common and predictable interview questions; conversational questions, on the other hand, can prove just as insightful but usually solicit responses that are more authentic and less pre-rehearsed.

Pro-active skill improvements

Fourth, in an interview, focus on asking a candidate about what they actually do and their plans for continual betterment.

The best talent will always have pro-active plans for continual improvement in their skills.

Interacting with peers, managers, and subordinates

Fifth and finally, a productive interview should focus beyond the candidate’s intellectual and personal attributes.

Just as important and maybe even more so are the questions of how a prospective candidate will function within a larger organization. Questions designed to garner insight on their views on professional interaction with peers, managers, and subordinates are vital but unfortunately many times overlooked.

A successful interview assesses not just individual capability but how a candidate’s capabilities are applied in a team culture and environment.

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