Most Likely To Succeed
February 5, 2013
From college recruiters and professional scouts to service academies and Fortune 500 companies, we use every available indicator to filet the intellect and character of human beings in search of the perfect match. How can we hire when we can't tell who's right for the job? In Malcolm Gladwell's "What the Dog Saw," he writes of an NFL scout setting up to grade several players in a game between Missouri and Oklahoma State. Dan Shonka, who worked for several NFL teams, sat in his Columbia, MO hotel room armed with video and note pads. He explained that he liked the potential for several Tiger players: Jeremy Maclin and Chase Coffman for their skill and speed as receivers; he loved William Moore, the team's bruising strong safety; but he was most interested in the team's quarterback Chase Daniels. In Shonka's stack of evaluation forms, he had made copious notes on Daniels' judgment, foot speed and leadership qualities. He especially admired his "pop-up" tendency (after being blasted by a blindside blitz, how quickly did Daniels bounce back on his feet to call the next play?).
How much easier it would be if a designate at Goldman Sachs, Dow Chemical, or CBS watched films of up-and-coming professionals to see how they led a team under pressure, or get back up after getting sacked. Perhaps even for professional ranks we could dub this dilemma "the quarterback problem." There are certain jobs where almost nothing we learn about a prospect tells us how they'll do once in our organization. What seems an ineradicable belief pre-hire turns out to be tomorrow's regret. In recent years, innumerable fields have sought the magic ticket but only one with profound social consequences.
One of the most impactful tools in today's educational research is value-added analysis. Gladwell defines this: "It uses standard test scores to look at how much a student's academic performance changes between the beginning and end of an academic year."
Suppose you and I both teach a classroom of fifth graders who score in the 50th percentile on math and reading as the year begins. When those students are re-tested in June your students have progressed to the 70th percentile, while my students have fallen to the 40th tier. So, between your classroom and mine, there is a 30-point swing. That shift in our respective students' ranking says the value-added theory is a profound indicator of how much more effective you are in developing your students.
Admittedly it's only a base measure, since a teacher can't control all the factors in their students' lives. But if you follow this same example over the course of, say, four years, those scores become predictive in the quest to identify very good teachers from the very poor. Stanford economist Eric Hanushek estimates students of a very poor teacher will learn half a year's worth of material. Teacher-effects tower over school-effects; your child is better off in a bad school with an excellent teacher than in an "excellent" school with a bad teacher. And in fact, if you rank education on a global playing field using achievement scores, the U.S. ranks just below "average."
When we project this hard truth into our training and development across the media field, we face the inescapable reality that we suffer inadequate and antiquated training and development.
No morning show has ever taken a bona fide academic course on communicating with a listener. Few sales people have advanced through professional curricula to elevate a commercial-peddler to a sustaining-resource. And as tough as it is to admit, there has never been a universal media management syllabus or advanced certification. We needn't feel inferior in the sense that we're flanked by countless business categories where the same challenge limits our ability to predict. What we have ... is a quarterback problem.