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The rare find - Spotting Exceptional Talent Before Everyone Else

Introduction

In early 2005, Todd Carlisle began an experiment. He grabbed a notepad and ticked off twenty factors that might distinguish between hiring great employees and picking the wrong people.
Where did candidates go to college? What grades did they muster? How long had they been in the workforce, and so on?

Then more: people who ran their own businesses in childhood? people with the single-minded intensity to set a national record in anything? chess wizards and dodgeball enthusiasts? best employees might have discovered computers at a very early age?

Carlisle’s list topped out at three hundred factors.
It was Carlisle’s great fortune to be working there—at Google—at just the right time to carry out his project.

On the question of childhood familiarity with computers, Google cofounder Sergey Brin turned out to be right. People who grew up as early adopters of technology tended to be unusually creative adults in new, uncharted realms.
Most other supposed markers of success turned out to be mirages.

The biggest impact of Carlisle’s experiment, however, transcended any single hiring shortcut.
The thinking was that high-IQ people would do best at Google.

There was room at Google for people whose grades had faltered because they were working thirty hours a week to pay for college.
There was room for highly competitive people who had chased an athletic dream when they were younger
There was room, especially in nonengineering fields, for people who weren’t great students, but who had been running businesses, tutoring, volunteering, and otherwise being civic leaders from their teenage days onward.

Such candidates would stay invisible if Google rigidly scanned résumés the traditional way, from top to bottom.
So Carlisle stopped reading résumés the usual way.
He became known as the man who analyzed résumés “upside down.”

Over the past few decades, we as a society have made talent spotting vastly more sophisticated than it ever was before.

In politics, it’s Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet choices that are legendary. In military circles, it’s George Marshall’s ability in the 1930s to find the up-and-coming commanders who could help him win World War II. In sports, Vince Lombardi has been dead for forty years, but the way he built the Green Bay Packers into a championship team is still admired.
Modern presidents, generals, and football coaches don’t evoke nearly the same awe.

in Pop music, about Taylor Swift, they let her go because it didn’t seem worth spending more than $15,000 a year
in book publishing, at least four houses had a chance to buy the rights to J. K. Rowling’s first Harry Potter novel for less than $5,000.

One chapter will explain how the U.S. Army finds soldiers good enough to be in Special Forces, without asking them to fire a single bullet.
Battle-tested assessors can learn much more by watching candidates trudging forward on a long road march that isn’t going well. That’s when soldiers show their character.

Another chapter will journey to an elite basketball tournament
There, dozens of top coaches and scouts watch the game in a radically different way from what the casual fan might see.
It hardly matters which team wins or who scores the most points. Something as mundane as what happens during a coach’s timeout can reveal more about players’ prospects for advancement.

There’s an art to clearing away the clutter and focusing on what matters most.
It is simple and it is transferable. It just requires the courage to take a different approach.
Opportunities to learn from mentors, from well-run organizations, and from our own decisions (wise or foolish) are everywhere.

The best ones shared key habits. The less capable ones kept making similar mistakes.
Before long even the busiest experts started carving out larger chunks of time to talk about how they sized up candidates.

Key examples come from three broad areas:

They pick people and build teams in a profoundly different way.

there’s a huge difference between our very best performers and everyone else.
it’s probably a five-to-one gap.
Sports coaches were constantly looking for that “impact player”
Venture capitalists kept hunting for the entrepreneurs who could create the next Apple, Amazon, or Google.

The key question stops being: “Are you good enough to belong here?” Instead, it becomes: “Is there a chance you could become spectacular?”

The military tested more than 10 million people during World War II and used those scores to help determine who should be a cook and who should be an espionage agent.
Those tests were better than no placement system at all But they all assumed that talent was such a standard, unchangeable aspect of someone’s identity that it could be identified effectively by a single pencil-and-paper test.
That’s not the way we think about talent today.
People get really good at something because they practice hard and have excellent mentors or reinforcing peer groups.

Ericsson way: anyone can become quite talented simply by mastering the art of working diligently at the hard stuff. (This is known as “deliberate practice.”)

Now a Darwinian struggle for survival is making constant innovation a necessity, not a choice.

people whose background to date appears to teeter on the edge between success and failure. Such people can do spectacular work in the right settings, where their strengths are invaluable and their flaws don’t matter. They also are the people most likely to be shunted out of consideration in conventional hiring systems, because of some perceived shortcoming.
Some of the most talent-rich organizations in the world achieve greatness by knowing exactly what kinds of jagged résumés are right for them.

a strong belief that a candidate possesses some magical, hard-to-quantify trait that could ignite greatness. It might be unstoppable resilience—a virtue that is almost invisible in traditional résumés yet so highly prized in domain after domain. Other favorites include creativity, bravado, charisma, empathy, and self-sacrifice.

“This isn’t an exact science,” Polian says. “We don’t always get it right. In fact, we’re struggling to get it right fifty-five percent of the time. But if you reach fifty-five percent, you’ll make it to playoffs.