Musings on grades, intelligence and getting a job at Google

As someone who grew up always sure I was a few bricks short of a full load, and teachers constantly affirmed that, not to mention the Royal Canadian Navy who almost decommissioned me after receiving my mental ability test results( not a very high admission bar). But they were under their enlistment quota that month, so they accepted me. Over and over again my intelligence was deemed subpar by somebody or some test. By all measures it sure was not intelligence, as measured then, that got me into University of Toronto and graduate there with 4 degrees including at the age of 65, a doctorate. It was not my grades, at any level, that were responsible for a modicum of success as a teacher, principal, superintendent or professor.

Since the 70 s there has been a flurry of alternative modes of talking about human intelligence and I was attracted to and riveted, first by Richard Sternberg’s theory of the “triarchic mind”. Which offered at least two other ways of looking at intelligence beyond the tried, and relied on ( but not true) IQ test. Then came Howard Gardner’s theory of “multiple intelligences” and I knew then, their was hope for restoring my self confidence about my most quirky mind. But to be really honest I still suffer about the areas of my mind that I consider embarrassingly, subpar. So ashamed in fact that i have never shared it with anyone but my wife. She too is amazed at that lack and finds it hard to understand it since it is not readily apparent. ( I will share one clue. I still to this day do not know WTF William Shakespeare is ever talking about. . . Ever! Not one word)

I was elated this morning to read Thomas Friedman’s essay in the New York Times “How to get a job at Google”. I include here a few of my favourite bits. But read it all at:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/23/opinion/sunday/friedman-how-to-get-a-job-at-google.html?_r=0

Laszlo Bock, hiring chief, stated that Google had determined that “G.P.A.’s are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless. … We found that they don’t predict anything.”
Do you have any idea how that exciting that statement is to me?
He does goes on to qualify, by saying not to get him wrong,, “Good grades certainly don’t hurt.” Many jobs at Google require math, computing and coding skills, so if your good grades truly reflect skills in those areas that you can apply, it would be an advantage”

“For every job, though, the No. 1 thing we look for is general cognitive ability, and it’s not I.Q. It’s learning ability. It’s the ability to process on the fly. It’s the ability to pull together disparate bits of information. We assess that using structured behavioral interviews that we validate to make sure they’re predictive.”

The rest here is directly from the article. Wonderful! amazing ! exhilarating

The second, he added, “is leadership — in particular emergent leadership as opposed to traditional leadership. Traditional leadership is, were you president of the chess club? Were you vice president of sales? How quickly did you get there? We don’t care. What we care about is, when faced with a problem and you’re a member of a team, do you, at the appropriate time, step in and lead. And just as critically, do you step back and stop leading, do you let someone else? Because what’s critical to be an effective leader in this environment is you have to be willing to relinquish power.”

What else? Humility and ownership. “It’s feeling the sense of responsibility, the sense of ownership, to step in,” he said, to try to solve any problem — and the humility to step back and embrace the better ideas of others. “Your end goal,” explained Bock, “is what can we do together to problem-solve. I’ve contributed my piece, and then I step back.”
And it is not just humility in creating space for others to contribute, says Bock, it’s “intellectual humility. Without humility, you are unable to learn.” It is why research shows that many graduates from hotshot business schools plateau. “Successful bright people rarely experience failure, and so they don’t learn how to learn from that failure,” said Bock.

“They, instead, commit the fundamental attribution error, which is if something good happens, it’s because I’m a genius. If something bad happens, it’s because someone’s an idiot or I didn’t get the resources or the market moved. … What we’ve seen is that the people who are the most successful here, who we want to hire, will have a fierce position. They’ll argue like hell. They’ll be zealots about their point of view. But then you say, ‘here’s a new fact,’ and they’ll go, ‘Oh, well, that changes things; you’re right.’ ” You need a big ego and small ego in the same person at the same time.

The least important attribute they look for is “expertise.” Said Bock: “If you take somebody who has high cognitive ability, is innately curious, willing to learn and has emergent leadership skills, and you hire them as an H.R. person or finance person, and they have no content knowledge, and you compare them with someone who’s been doing just one thing and is a world expert, the expert will go: ‘I’ve seen this 100 times before; here’s what you do.’ ” Most of the time the nonexpert will come up with the same answer, added Bock, “because most of the time it’s not that hard.” Sure, once in a while they will mess it up, he said, but once in a while they’ll also come up with an answer that is totally new. And there is huge value in that.

To sum up Bock’s approach to hiring: Talent can come in so many different forms and be built in so many nontraditional ways today, hiring officers have to be alive to every one — besides brand-name colleges. Because “when you look at people who don’t go to school and make their way in the world, those are exceptional human beings. And we should do everything we can to find those people.” Too many colleges, he added, “don’t deliver on what they promise. You generate a ton of debt, you don’t learn the most useful things for your life. It’s [just] an extended adolescence.”

Google attracts so much talent it can afford to look beyond traditional metrics, like G.P.A. For most young people, though, going to college and doing well is still the best way to master the tools needed for many careers. But Bock is saying something important to them, too: Beware. Your degree is not a proxy for your ability to do any job. The world only cares about — and pays off on — what you can do with what you know (and it doesn’t care how you learned it). And in an age when innovation is increasingly a group endeavor, it also cares about a lot of soft skills — leadership, humility, collaboration, adaptability and loving to learn and re-learn. This will be true no matter where you go to work.”

How good is all that! Love it! Each of us has a germ of giftedness, brilliance, goodness or talent. Let it flourish!

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