Talent in Education and Business

Source: Psychology Today, Oct 2012

An interview with Norm Augustine (former CEO of Lockheed Martin)

In our country today there are two principal groups that are largely underserved in our K-12 educational system:   the most brilliant and the most economically disadvantaged.  A great deal of attention is, appropriately, being focused on the latter group.  

When we design our public schools to focus on the median student, we place both the least fortunate and the most outstanding among us at a disadvantage.   If we are to rectify this, we will need not only to help the less prepared but also to provide special opportunities for the most brilliant.  The reason we do not do more of this already is, I suspect, a misguided equating of special treatment for the most brilliant with elitism…a notion that is very dangerous to everyone.

Earlier in my career we used college grades as the best indicator of future performance among new graduates.  Unfortunately, the extraordinary inflation that has taken place in grades in recent decades has made grades all but meaningless to potential employers.  Some of the companies with which I have been associated (as a member of their board) have thus placed emphasis on IQ tests and many of those companies have been extremely successful in identifying talent in this manner.  My own experience, however, has been that motivation will beat raw intelligence almost every time.  Of course, a combination of motivation and intelligence is virtually unbeatable. 

The single most important trait that our schools, families and other institutions can ingrain in our students is the importance of character.  Without a strong ethical compass a student in his or her lifetime can only harm the world-and most likely themselves and those around them.  Beyond that, I would emphasize the importance of hard work.  That is certainly true of the process of learning.  More and more evidence suggests that it takes long hours working on very demanding tasks for one to learn. 

I believe that there is a great deal that can be learned from other countries.  Some of the errors of our own thinking has resulted in one of the poorest K-12 education systems in the world while we spend the most per student as compared with all but one other nation.  Similarly, I have visited classrooms abroad containing 60 or more students and their academic results surpass those being achieved in many American public schools.  

I would hope that we could learn the importance of academic curiosity…the desire to learn more.  It is told that recently two Stanford professors placed three interactive courses on the web and within a few days acquired over 300,000 students…from 190 different countries-with no formal credit offered.  

Also, in our public pre-K-12 system, we should learn to respect our teachers and, correspondingly, have teachers that we can respect.  Today, America’s teachers largely come from the lower third of their college class, whereas in many other countries they come from the top ten percent-and are rewarded and treated accordingly. 

Another important factor that impacts student success to a very large degree is parental interest.

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