Friday, June 10, 2022

Tyler Cowen Interview and 5 Takeaways


  1. How can you better identify the key traits of talented people?
    These are the top 5 traits I look for when conversing with any potential candidate for a new role:
    • Energy Level & Desire: A person’s energy level is critical. Are you able to feel a surging desire from them to do something, to work, cooperate, to achieve something? 
    • Social Intelligence: This is about how well people work with others. If they see a group, how quickly are they able to figure out, here's how the group works, and here's the role I should play in that group. 
    • Maximizing the Correct Things: Some smart people work hard but maximize the wrong things, so look for people who can figure out the proper hierarchies of what is truly important.
    • Persistence & Durability: How likely is the person to stick through highs and lows and continue performing consistently? 
    • Happiness Level: On average, happy people seem to be more productive.
  2. How can you better leverage the talent that’s already in your orbit?
    Someone with a single excellent idea can be worth so much more than a perfectly good worker who doesn’t have a comparably valuable idea. Because of increasing globalization, remote work, and AI, a good idea is now multiplied many times more than it used to be. By our best estimates, 20% to 40% of American economic growth has come from better allocating talent since the 1960s. 

    To unlock this value, we need to start by looking for creative input from a greater number of people, as well as from different types of people. More people are energizers, creatives, and winners than we think. Talent includes renowned CEOs, people running startups, world-famous athletes, and cultural figures like Paul McCartney. But you can also find them on a micro level. I run a podcast, and the sound engineers contribute extremely useful ideas. They are creatives and energizers. In part, they energize me; and they also see things that I do not see. Train yourself at ‘talent appreciation’, the way you might train yourself at art appreciation or music appreciation. It starts with the wake-up call to be fully aware that the creative acts of your individual talent and their judgment are truly central to the future of your institution, more so than ever before. 
  3. How can you better position existing talent inside your organization to maximize their impact?
    The research shows people don’t change that much over time, so if you’re trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, it probably won’t work. At times, I succeeded in having people switch divisions; so it’s important to have an open mind about what part of your institution the person could work in. People are capable of learning, that’s a positive fact, but most people stay who they are at their core. If someone is introverted or disagreeable by nature, they will stay that way. Either figure out how they can fit in, or you need to move in some other direction.
  4. How can you ask the right questions to identify creatives, energizers, and winners?
    Get prospective hires into a conversational mode on topics they care about but are not prepared for. Find out what they’re interested in and get them talking–baseball, The Beatles, Star Wars, whatever it may be–it will help you see how they think, and how they interpret social structures. Everyone will come prepared with an account of their own strengths and weaknesses, what they learned from the last time they made an error in their previous job; It’s fine to ask those things. You will learn something but you won’t learn what makes that person tick.

    Here’s an example of the ideal question I like to ask people: “What are the open tabs in your web browsers right now?” What are they interested in? What do they care about? The key is not so much to judge the content of the tabs. It’s the level of enthusiasm, detail, and involvement that you’re looking for.

    When it comes to assessing durability and persistence, what I tend to look for is simply people who started endeavors when they were fairly young and were truly interested in them. It’s not proof of persistence, but if they’re 19 and started something at 14, you’re going to see five years of persistence. It’s a sign they might be on that campus of people who just keep on going forever. I look at the earliness of the start. Even if someone is 45, maybe they’ve been out of the workforce. What projects did you start when you were 16? It’s something I would want to know. Highly imperfect on my wishlist. If I could judge the persistence of young people much better, that would be the number one thing on my wishlist.

    All good interview questions spoil within five or ten years, so it’s not about memorizing the best questions. Instead, it’s about thinking through how you bond with people during a conversation—to have a meeting of the minds.  If you’re good at that, the questions will come to you because you are conversing. You don’t go out with a list of questions in your everyday life. Most of all, as the interviewer, be trustworthy; it’s important people trust you. If they perceive you as responsible, your conversations will be much better. That’s more important than a list of best questions.
  5. How could you better assess talent in political leaders?
    I find it striking how hard it is to predict good political leadership. For example, if you read the Charles Moore biography of Margaret Thatcher, it was not obvious earlier in her career that she would be a significant political leader. I’m not talking about whether you like what she did or not. Clearly, she became Prime Minister, she was very influential, including internationally. She was a chemist, which is great, but I don’t think the best interviewer in the world would’ve seen that in her. 

    I would say when it comes to political leaders, indeed, almost everything else, the importance of keeping a truly open mind, the human capacity for self-improvement is one of the best things you can do, and it will make you happier, more optimistic, and more productive. I find political leadership the hardest thing to forecast. Still, I think at the end of the day, a political leader can only do so many things, and you need to focus on how they communicate with the public. What two or three ideas are they trying to bring to the discourse, even if they don’t succeed with them now, those ideas might happen in 10 years. 

    You need to throw out so many of the other signals you are getting. It’s hard to do because you’re used to looking for more signals, more information to put together a more complete picture. Still, often for political leaders, you can be a bit more accurate by throwing out a lot of the information you’re getting because how good they are, just doesn’t matter. They’re constrained. They have little time, and many tasks, it’s not really a job that makes any sense. The presidency is a job for 17 different people. So I’m not saying we can actually run it that way. It’s really going to mess with your normal intuitions. And I would just say, “Please keep an open mind, all the more.”
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