Wise words are often contradictory

It is hard to agree with “Absence makes  the heart grow fonder”  and also with  “Out of sight, out of mind.”  I came across another twosome of adages recently.  On the one hand, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” On the other, “What you see is what you get.    I often advise people to trust their first instincts.  Malcolm Gladwell’s wonderful short book Blink makes the points that persons steeped in experience can often look quickly at something and tell us what it is—a fake or a real  painting…a successful or unsuccessful organization.  They know just what to look for that predicts something important.

I tie this skill to advice I give organizations. First, get the most insightful people to give you their take and trust their judgement on anything important..  They do in a blink what you can’t do in a week.   Second, even if you can’t find an expert, take your best shot and move forward. You will learn more once in action than by dithering at the starting line.

Robert Cherry (known through a David Brooks column) has pushed me to a double take. He found in a study of hiring of ex-offenders in Minneapolis that only 6% of the ex-offenders were hired when their record was disclosed up front.  This city, however,  hired 60% of those with records when this news came in toward the end of the hiring process.

What can we make of this?  For me it is to pause before the quick decision to ask if we are looking in our assessment at factors that clearly predict the success we seek.     There may be good reasons to hire or not hire a person who has been incarcerated but using that factor  to predict job performance is not among them.  Forcing out our assumptions behind the decision is a great idea.

The lesson is less that you “can’t judge a book by its cover” than it is to separate those factors seen and heard early  that  have strong predictive value from those which do not.

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