The One Thing You Better Get Right

A while back, a friend of mine sent me an article from the New Yorker, written by Malcolm Gladwell.

The article is a correlation between selecting NFL quarterbacks and choosing great educators. In light of tonight’s NFL Draft, the article is timely.

Whether you are selecting a QB or a teacher, there is one thing that is certain … You better get it right.

If you are a parent you probably have given a lot of thought to where your kids attend school. You would be wise to forget about the school and focus on the teacher.

Gladwell points out, “Teacher effects dwarf school effects: your child is actually better off in a ‘bad’ school with an excellent teacher than in an excellent school with a bad teacher.”

For football teams, schools, and every other organization or team, it is imperative to find excellent people. If I might draw from Gladwell, the truth is you would be better off working in a ‘bad’ company with an excellent leader than you would be working in an excellent company with a bad leader.

In either scenario, you can bank on the company changing within a short time. A great leader will turn a bad company around while a bad leader will run a good company in the ground. Leader effects dwarf company effects.

A couple of bad teams will mortgage their futures on two young quarterbacks tonight. If they are as good as advertised, look for both teams to improve quickly. If they are overrated, each franchise will set itself back a decade.

[Tweet “Learn to evaluate and place great talent. Your future depends on it.”]

Leadership Begins at Home,


What is your secret to discovering talent? 

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David Lloyd-Jones

6 years ago

Your article n teachers is spot on.
The gold standard on pretty much all things educational is the Coleman Reports, done by the excellent James S. Coleman, back in the 1960’s and ’70s, when he was at Johns Hopkins, before he went to Chicago.
With about $2 million in Office of Education, as it was in those days, money (a lot of money for social science in those days), he went out an correlated pretty much everything with everything. It got so extreme that when Hewlett Packard started coming out with their excellent RPN hand-held calculators, actually genuine computers, the linear regression button was called the Coleman Button in some quarters.
What he found was that most stuff doesn’t matter to the kids’ outcomes.
Library size, light on the desk, teacher training, all that stuff? Nice, but no effect on student outcomes five years later.
Class size? Here’s how that works: there are three class sizes, a.) five plus or minus two; the teacher is leading a seminar and teaching everybody; b.) anywhere from eight to eighty: a classroom; the students are mostly teaching each other, the teacher is the conductor, leader of a mob, or helpless bystander; c.) over eighty: theater. The teacher is performing for an audience.
25 is a nice size for the middle kind, because most teachers can handle that reasonably well. from the point of view of students’ outcomes, however, there is no evidence that 25 is better than 75 or worse than 12.
What counts? Only one thing, normalized for students’ IQs and parents’ incomes, is both subject to adjustment and has any effect: teachers.
Specifically, teachers’ vocabulary, as tested by even anything as crude as the Readers Digest “It Pays To Improve Your Word Power” feature, is a trustworthy predictor of whether that teacher’s students will have measurable good effects five years later.
Solid. The one piece of social science research that you can take to the bank.
What does it mean? Here we’re beginning to speculate, but this is my theory. Vocabulary is a proxy for a bunch of other qualities: curiosity, raw ability, and knowledge of the real world. The person who consistently scores over 18 on that Readers Digest test can look in a kid’s eyes and see the light of understanding or the dim banked fire of struggle — and address each appropriately. Any adult who scores 10~12 on that test has gone through life not paying much attention to anything — and cannot possibly teach because they have never learnt.
Take it to the bank.


6 years ago

Well said, David!!!

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