The Rare Find: Spotting Exceptional Talent Before Everyone Else by George Anders

The Rare Find: Spotting Exceptional Talent Before Everyone ElseThe Rare Find: Spotting Exceptional Talent Before Everyone Else by George Anders

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve had this on my professional shelf at work for a few years and took time to dig into it. In Anders’ Introduction, he bemoans the ability to identify great people as having deteriorated. My margin note was “we all want ‘great’ people, but not everyone is great. Not by a long shot (90% of all Navy officers used to be in the top 10%)”. The parenthetical aside recalled the old evaluating system, where if someone was not in the top 10%, it was a career killer, so everybody was – except the ones who needed a new career. The Introduction is littered with superlatives like “crucial new terms”, and definitive pronouncements like [a notion] “will show”…yes, I understand if you’re selling a concept, you have to guarantee something, but that’s a mental eye-roll for me when I see stuff like that.

Anyway, there are nuggets to be found in here for the “regular” hiring supervisor/manager, but they are hidden in plain sight among a lot of anecdotes that really don’t apply to that regular world. Fortunately, some of those nuggets are bolded. Not all of Anders’ bold choices are usable, but I’m sure some will be for some readers. I’ll share here a few I flagged. Here’s a nebulous one: Find your unlikely stars by noticing what others don’t see. Sure. As it happens, I take a little pride in that. I also know I miss some of “what others see “. One of the takeaways wasn’t bolded. In the anecdote about how Army Special Forces candidates are selected, Anders says “Every few years, Army statisticians analyze candidates’ records to see if there is an easier way of identifying winners, without churning up so many thousands of hours of assessors’ time.” Brigadier General Sacolick, at the time of writing’s head of Special Warfare Center Fort Bragg has a simple answer: “There is no shortcut.”

In the chapter titled “Decoding the Jagged Resume”, a bolded sentence is probably the best advice: Compromise on experience; don’t compromise on character. Maybe a resume doesn’t have what (you think) you are looking for. Unless there is an unbridgeable gap, knowledge can be learned, character…is innate. Go with character.

In the chapter “Where Insights Are Born”, Anders quotes from Lou Adler’s Hire With Your Head: remain objective throughout the interviewing process, fighting the impact of first impressions, biases, intuitions, prejudices and preconceived notions of success. This way, all information collected during the interview is both relevant and unbiased,” Ander’s nails it with: “That’s a fine way to pick a lawn mower. It’s not a great way to choose people.” I do not do this, but I have seen it too many times in the past 11 years, both with hiring people and hiring consultants and contractors. Later in the same chapter, Anders mentions the 1950s corporate reliance on personality tests for hiring decisions. Yes, sixty years later, we’ve probably gotten away from that, but I’ve seen a resurgence of post-hiring use of what I called flawed assessments. Just an editorial opinion of mine.

In “Talent That Whispers”, Break down barriers that restrict where you look. This is good advice. If you look where everyone else does, you’ll miss the diamonds in the rough. Another bold, When you’re exploring, ask: “What can go right?” is also good advice, and Anders follows up immediately with “Most conventional assessment is all about finding candidates’ flaws. [Ooh! He is about to expose…] That’s appropriate in the final stages of selection, when the top-tier candidates have already established their allure.” And ..crash and burn. You’re not looking for flaws to eliminate, you’re looking which of the finalists will work “best”. (I detest the amateurish question “What is your biggest weakness?” – rare that you’ll get an answer that means anything.) And, Figure out how to take tiny chances – so you can take more of them. I like Tom Peters’ take on that: Fail fast and fail often.

In “Talent That Shouts”, Great talent is no substitute for the right talent. (there are more bolds, but I found them less useful.) Right talent. Yep. And pedigree rarely crosses job profiles – Anders says, “A brilliant Cabinet secretary stumbles as a university president.” I say be wary of pelts on the wall, accolades, …beware of the shiny.

Concluding chapter, “Fitting the Pieces Together”, Anders has a section heading “Widen Your View of Talent” – I know people like to think they think outside the box, rarely recognizing there is always a box. My margin note was “stay away from boxes”. Yes, there is always a box, and you can make the box bigger. Make sure you are careful with the shiny: Insist on the right talent. I’ve made some good hires, none really not that good, and have been part of someone else’s hiring processes and lost the argument when too many on the team couldn’t see past the glitz. Not my problem is a cop-out, because the whole organization suffers, but I can still sleep at night knowing it is someone else’s problem.

Jumping off point: find The Algorithmic Image by Robert Rivlin.

Format criticism: another book with a Notes section (14 pages) and zero, nada, zilch references in the main body! Maddening. I actually checked this time before reading past the Introduction, but it is a colossal waste of time to flip back and forth, wondering if anything was endnoted.

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