Today is Nobel Prize Day, so we thought it would be interesting to share a bit about how Nobel Prize winners would hire and offer up our favorite Nobel Prize winners and some of the characteristics that make them great models for hiring.
We will start with the excellent advice by Daniel Kahneman , author of Thinking, Fast and Slow. Kahneman is a psychologist who was awarded the 2002 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, and his ideas have a most direct bearing on interviewing for hiring, especially in today’s remote, attention economy.
Kahneman postulates how we often are strangers to ourselves – and this stranger could be in control of much of what we do. This trait is especially scary when we are making a decision based on a short episode – which is the case when one interviews a candidate. He therefor prefers an algorithmic, formula based approach over the judgment by an expert.
The intuition, or gut, that most of us fancy and trust has an extreme dependency on the context. Even a brief pleasure of a warm sun beam on a cold day may make you slightly more positive and have substantial influence on your thoughts and actions at that time. Also, as hiring experts try to get clever, think outside the box, and consider complex combinations of features in making their predictions, they tend to box themselves in….Complexity may work in the odd cases, but more often than not, it reduces hiring decision validity.
What to do? Kahneman suggests the following systematic interview procedure that requires relatively little effort but substantial discipline.
Hire on Purpose
Based on the job description at hand, Kahneman suggest you select a few traits – not more than six – for success in that position. Example: technical proficiency, engaging personality, reliability, social selling skills and so on…. The traits should be as independent as possible from each other, and you should feel you can assess them reliably by asking a few factual questions. Next, make a list of those questions for each trait and think about how you will score it, say on a 1-5 scale. This is in preparation for the interview, and all those interviewing should be clear on this ideal candidate profile.
During the interview, to avoid the halo effect, plan your interview to collect the information on one trait at a time, scoring each before you move on to the next one. Do not skip around. To evaluate each candidate, add up the six scores. Firmly resolve that you will hire the candidate whose final score is the highest, even if there is another one whom you liked better.
When he first proposed this method during his stint in the Israeli army, the interviewers came close to mutiny. After forty-five years, when he had a chance encounter with the army interviewing unit, he was pleasantly surprised to find the procedure had not changed much from the one he had designed!
We hope you can trust this Nobel Laureate when he reassures – a vast amount of research offers a promise: probability of finding the best candidate is much higher if you use this procedure than if you get in to the interview unprepared and make a choice by an overall intuitive judgment such as “I looked in to his eyes and liked what I saw”!
Build a Larger Hiring Team and Train Them
Some of challenges in the recruiting today are that there are always new techniques and strategies. There are also likely a glut of great talent you need to sort through, and, at the same time, being able to attract the very best remains highly competitive.
That’s why it’s important to constantly be looking for ways to make sure your people always are working on developing their interviewing skills – it’s great that you may have veteran hiring managers, but it’s vital they continue to know the newest methods, rather than hearing them say, “I’m doing the same thing I was doing years ago.” This can include sending them to seminars, conferences or creating other opportunities to learn ways to do their jobs better, whether it is using software or techniques.
Kahneman is clear that the larger and better prepared the hiring team, the more likely they are to help one another overcome the noise, very relevant in today’s hiring process. “By having many independent judgements of the same candidate, you eliminate noise by sampling,” he says.
Hire the Best “Five Star Recruit” but adjust plans as needed
Athletic recruiters are good at looking for the top dogs first, and employment recruiters can take the same approach. You may ultimately never know why he or she will choose one place over another – maybe money, location, duties, benefits — but you should make your business look appealing. Recruiters can also look for who is doing well in certain fields, such as industry awards or community recognition.
Gaining a proven winner could be a great draw for your organization, especially if they also have the qualities for success beyond excellence in one area. (Recruiters all have plenty of horror stories about the superstar who ended up not playing nice with others). At the same time, your ‘perfect fit’ may not be aware that you’re looking for them, and someone who has some of the skills you want but not all may not bother applying.
So if a listing is not getting the response you want after a certain amount of time, take time to retool it by changing removing some duties or requirements. You can still keep some minimal requirements but perhaps some skills can be taught if an otherwise-great candidate has other qualities you like.
Hire for a Collaborative Spirit and a Double Time Work Ethic
Nobel Prize winners published twice as many articles as other early-career researchers during their first 5 years as working scientists, an analysis of more than 500 laureates has found.
While laureates and other scientists both relied on collaboration to kick-start their careers, the study found that prize-winners spent their early years working in larger teams, publishing almost double the number of joint papers, on average.
They also published 6 times more papers that ended up among the top 1% of highly-cited articles.
“In contrast to the iconic image of lone geniuses making guiding contributions, we find the giants in science in fact show a greater propensity toward teamwork,” says Dashun Wang, one of the study’s authors, from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.
The authors said that understanding the patterns of elite scientists can uncover “insightful markers for exceptional scientific careers”, to help identify stars in the making.
What does this have to do with your next hire in Life Sciences? Sure, we are not likely looking for Nobel Laureate Candidates, but what if we could bring that caliber of person to the team?
In today’s face past, remote selling environment, the ability to collaborate and deliver the twice the work of others is essential. Those that can connect the dots and bring real value, faster then others, are the ones that will win in an attention economy.
Find candidates that are clearly connected and highly networked. Seek out those who have demonstrated they work well on team, especially remote teams, and yet have still outpaced the peers on those teams by a significant measure.
And, our Favorite Nobel Prize Winners and Characteristics are….
Madam Marie Curie was a Polish immigrant to France. The noted physicist and chemist became a pioneer in the field of radioactivity who emerges as the first two-time Nobel Laureate, the only woman to be a two-time winner, the first women winner, the first person to win in two different disciplines, and the only person ever to win Nobel prizes in both chemistry and physics.
In addition to her own remarkable achievements, the Curie Family combined to win five Nobel Prizes. Her daughter, Irene, also won in chemistry.
She refused to profit from her discoveries. During the First World War, she dropped her research and started an ambulance service to aid soldiers. She put noble in Nobel.
Her death at the age of 67 was from aplastic anemia brought on by massive overexposure to radiation in her work. She had no idea how dangerous it was, as she and her husband would routinely carry isotopes around to show people the “pretty little light” plutonium would put out….They worked in a shed with no safety precautions.
Because of the levels of radioactivity, her papers and even her personal cookbook are stored in lead containers – considered too dangerous to handle. Anyone who wants to consult them must wear radiation protective gear and sign a waiver.
Her life and death contain a number of profoundly important lessons. Of course, there are no plans to expose you to radiation, yet her success does point to how a great candidate must have a focus on exposing themselves to the things that may very well be making their life and reputation radioactive (in a good way). Look for candidates that are passionate about what they do and want to share that passion with others. Seek out those that are truly, deeply networked. These have great value.
Keep it Simple
Who better to follow Madame Curie than her best friend and perhaps the most famous scientist in the history of the world? Albert Einstein won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921 for discovering the cause of the “photoelectric effect.” This was a perplexing phenomenon in which atoms, when bombarded with light, emitted electrons. In 1905, Einstein argued that light was divided into discrete packets (which we now call photons). He theorized that, when these light packets struck atoms, electrons in those atoms absorbed them, and, with the extra energy, wrested free of the atoms that bound them.
He was also famous for insisting we keep things simple. With all the information and sometimes resultant complexity thrown at us today, you will be looking for team members who can reduce things down to the simplest parts, for your team and your clients, and make solutions that much more elegant by doing so.
A Willingness to Risk
The 1945 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine went to Sir Alexander Fleming, Ernst Chain and Sir Howard Florey for their discovery of penicillin, a fungus, and its use as an antibiotic.
Common wisdom has it that Sir Alexander made the discovery accidentally when he ate a piece of moldy bread and became cured of an infectious disease. The grain of truth in the story is that the discovery was indeed an accident. Fleming went away on vacation in August 1928 and returned to his laboratory in early September to discover that a fungus had developed in a stack of Petri dishes containing bacteria. The bacteria had died in the dishes immediately surrounding the fungus, while bacteria in the dishes farther away were unaffected.
Fleming spent the next couple of decades investigating the antibacterial effects of what he at first called “mould juice” and later named “penicillin” after the fungus’ genus (Penicillium). Chain and Florey contributed by conducting rigorous clinical trials that proved the great usefulness of penicillin and figuring out how to purify and produce it in bulk.
Penicillin cures staph infections, scarlet fever, gonorrhea, pneumonia, meningitis, diphtheria, syphilis and other serious infectious diseases
Seek out those with a bit of appropriately focused daring…who know that luck is where preparation and hard work meet.
Devotion to Process
Just as we help clients create and follow well thought out processes in their hiring, we admire those who use deep process in their work. Francis Crick and James Watson won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1962 for their discovery that DNA is shaped like a double helix. Maurice Wilkins shared the prize with them for producing some of the earliest evidence in support of their claim — he used a technique called X-ray crystallography to map out the shape of the DNA molecule.
Their prize remains controversial because of who was left off the list of honorees. Watson and Crick formed their hypothesis on the shape of DNA in 1953 only after analyzing an X-ray diffraction image of DNA taken by a biophysicist named Rosalind Franklin a year earlier. (The image was shown to Watson and Crick without her knowledge.) Franklin had already written a draft of her paper on the helical form of DNA before Watson and Crick wrote theirs, but her contributions were overlooked for years. Franklin was never able to make her case to the Nobel Committee. Watson, Crick and Wilkins received the honor four years after she died.
While the controversy around the award is well founded, it doesn’t remove the lesson: Seek out those who can operate well in a structured process that has rigor yet still leaves room for a little creativity.
Be of Great Service
At 35, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. became the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize when his work to end racial discrimination in the United States through nonviolent means was recognized in 1964. His “I Have a Dream” speech, which he delivered one year earlier from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to a crowd of 200,000, was but one of many famous and influential speeches King gave as a leader in the civil rights movement.
He was found of saying that anyone could be great, “because greatness is determined by service.” Seek out those who really care about the work they are doing and how it contributes to the greater good of their clients. This will create a continuous preference for your company as their trusted advisor.
Make Giant Leaps
Werner Heisenberg received the physics prize in 1932 for discovering the underlying principles of quantum mechanics, the rules that govern the behavior of subatomic particles.
Quantum mechanics completely changed our understanding of reality. It says that light, electrons, atoms and, indeed, all things act simultaneously like particles and like waves. The so-called “uncertainty principle” follows from that; it states that it is impossible to know with perfect accuracy both a particle’s position and its velocity. Know where a particle is, and you have no idea where it is going, or how fast. Yet another curious aspect of quantum mechanics is that it shows there is no reality — at least not on the atomic scale — that exists independently of our observations of it.
Seek out team members who can help the whole group make great leaps forward. Find those who have limitless thinking and do not know what cannot be done. These are the contributors who can help you accomplish anything.
Overall, while the list of greats and their characteristics is not complete, all of these factors can combine to create optimal strategies and tactics for bringing in the best people.
So, are you prepared to suspend, if only briefly, the belief in your expertise, intuition, heuristics, judgment, out of the box thinking, intelligence, cleverness and what not; and follow a rigorous algorithmic process for interviewing candidates? If so, we are here to help.
At Cerca Talent+, we find ways to serve you by exercising the disciplined, daily practice of finding the very best possible talent with whom you can develop the kind of great reputation that will lead your company to Exceed Expectations. If you are an enterprise looking to expand your team with professionals who are focused on delivering work which they love and who embrace the grind, please reach out to Scott Rivers at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Scott Rivers is the Managing Director of Cerca Talent+, a talent agency for the Oncology, Genetics and Life Science Industries. Scott’s recruiting experience extends into the areas of Diagnostics, Equipment and Device, Genomics and BioInformatics. His team manages recruitment for businesses focused on these areas in all roles.
As a leader who has worked at every level of commercial, medical sales and global marketing, Scott is an intense professional who partners with organizations to fine tune talent branding. If you are a leader looking to expand your team with professionals who are focused on delivering work in which they take pride, and you can be proud of, every day, then Scott would be privileged to help you in the process. Having been a professional in the fields where you focus, Scott knows the ins and outs of the companies, the business and the customers you are working to come alongside.
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PhotoCredit: John Malkovich is seen as Albert Einstein in a re-creation of the 1951 portrait taken by Arthur Sasse. After Sandro decided to re-create other well-known portraits, he approached John Malkovich with the idea for the project. Sandro chose 35 portraits to re-create from 28 different photographers.