Why naughty little Johnnies are what business really needs
Disruptors are the new success stories. Traditional business is clogged by too many old-fashioned notions
There are just too many of us to let everyone just have a go at doing whatever they want to do. There have to be some filters; the queues have to be manageable.
In sport the entry criteria are more obvious and the results more predictable than in business, or science, for instance.
In sport, everybody knows. You have to have the right physical attributes, obvious talent, a commitment to stay match-fit and then practice, a lot. These attributes won’t be enough to make you a superstar but you’ll probably get noticed by the right scout, who’ll tempt you into a team with a lucrative offer.
Every time you play it’s another test. Every tournament, every match you compete in, particularly with individual, elimination sports, like tennis or golf, is another test. On-the-field performance evaluation, while you’re actually doing something, is very different to academic testing, which only demonstrates your propensity to do it.At the highest level, sport is live. Actions influence futures. A fullback in rugby can only knock-on so many high ball catches before disqualifying himself from the next game, no matter how many catches he took cleanly at practice. They don’t count the number of practised conversions either, only the ones that score (or not), under the floodlights, in front of the crowds.
I’m not a regular soccer fan and I’m less impressed with the theatrics than some of the referees seem to be, but you cannot deny that the soccer World Cup has put on display some quite extraordinary, if not magical, ball-playing skills. At this level you need more, though: you need big-match temperament. That is what defines the superstars as a cut above the rest, and they get paid properly for that difference.
In business or science there are no early talent scouts. It’s a lot more complex.
How do you show natural talent for being a merchant banker, a microbiologist, or an engineer, and how do you practise before the game starts?There are any number of established entrance examinations which seek to pre-select those students who aspire to study at the leading universities of the world. The SAT test is the benchmark for getting into most leading colleges in the US. Its name and purpose has changed since 1926, when it sought to test aptitude, to being an assessment of skills (particularly in reading, writing and mathematics), and then recently, when the emphasis moved to reasoning ability.
In China the national college entrance examination, known as Gaokao, at least splits into separate streams for arts and science, but its questions sometimes seek opinion, not knowledge – not a bad thing unless your opinion differs from the one sought by the examiner.
GMAT (Graduate Management Admissions Test) is the gold standard for getting into business schools.
While there may not be a comprehensively better screening method for pre-selecting students for university study, it surely has some limitations. Places at top universities are limited. The standards are high, as are the stakes. Entrance examinations are an industry, let’s face it. You can get help to get in – new technologies, practice tests, tutors, courses, you name it, to teach you to get high marks. Whether you get into university (or not) depends entirely on how well you did in a test you were coached on. That can surely not be the only gateway.Of course you’ve got to demonstrate the required level of knowledge – I’d rather be treated by an 80% doctor than a 51% one, for sure, but there’s more to it than that. Steady hands if you’re a surgeon; a sense of value beyond the numbers in corporate finance. Some gut feel, some natural affinity, an inquiring (not only disciplined) mind. These qualities can only be tested on the field, while you’re playing.
So often it’s the experienced person who actually does the work who’s more valuable than the alternative who passes (with flying colours) the tests and qualifications.
Many successful organisations have made the case for moving past hierarchy and title and structure and academic qualifications only – towards the ability to get the job done, persuasion and leadership skills (evidenced, not just written about), original thought (which, by definition, can’t be tested), and degrees of management latitude that invite and reward ideas, or even tolerate unmeasured thoughts about them.
Disruptors are the new success stories. Maybe the entrance lane to traditional business has been clogged by too many old-fashioned notions of what it takes to get the job done.
Mark Barnes is CEO of the Post Office.