Tag Archives: Jeremy Lin

Linsanity, the Marshmallow Test and Hiring

From the Wall Street Journal today came a column by Arthur C. Brooks entitled “Obama’s Budget Flunks the Marshmallow Test“. Not to worry, we are not going to take a turn down the path of political commentary. However, what we will borrow is the Marshmallow Test:

In one famous study from 1972, Stanford psychologist Walter Mischel concocted an ingenious experiment involving young children and a bag of marshmallows. He put a marshmallow on the table and told each child that if he (or she) could wait 15 minutes to eat it, he would get a second one as a reward.

About two-thirds of the kids failed the experiment. Some gave in immediately and gobbled up the marshmallow; videotape shows others in agony, trying to discipline themselves—some even banging their little heads on the table.

But the most interesting results from that study came years later. Researchers followed up on the children to see how their lives were turning out. The kids who didn’t take the marshmallow had average SAT scores 210 points higher than the kids who ate it immediately. They were less likely to drop out of college, made far more money, were less likely to go to jail, and suffered from fewer drug and alcohol problems.

So what does all of this have to do with identifying, hiring and retaining talent?  Actually everything.  Think about Jeremy Lin and the New York Knicks.  As an organization the Knicks had a choice – bring Lin up from the Developmental League and give him a chance, or shop around and trade for some point guard from another team.  They chose to go with Lin and two weeks later it is Linsanity.

Clearly, it is not always going to turnout that well when it comes to hiring, but there is a lesson to be learned.  It is safe to say that as a child if Lin was given the Marshmallow Test, he would have sat and waited for the reward.  His history indicates he is not an instant gratification person.  He “gets” sacrifice, hard work and patience.  Those are the traits, along with a ton of natural athletic gifts, that have made him successful.

The other side to this scenario is that there were options for the Knicks – there are other guards out there with the physical skills and size.  In this one case the Knicks avoided that classic pitfall of hiring…going with the “qualified” or “experienced” candidate; the safe hire.  The recycling of candidates, the shuffling of people from job to job, company to company, is the single greatest mistake made in hiring.  The philosophy that if someone is in the role currently,  they can naturally fill that role at our company.  Yes, they probably will do okay, but they will probably never be great.

Going with recycled talent in hiring is the path to immediate gratification – it is the “easy and safe hire”.  And based on the Marshmallow Test, immediate gratification is not an indicator of long-term success.  Apply the test to the candidates and yourself next time you have to add someone to the team – you just might find that great hire.

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Great Moments…

…are born from great opportunities.  It is one of those great quotes and lessons, and now along comes “Linsanity” to remind us that Coach Brooks knew exactly of what he spoke.  Talk about someone earning an opportunity and maximizing it…what a week it has been.

I am not an NBA fan, not even a casual NBA fan.  I am not even a basketball fan.  Sure, March Madness is a blast, and I loved watching the Jordan era Bulls in the finals, but otherwise I am indifferent to basketball.  However, the Jeremy Lin story is absolutely amazing – it is not a Cinderella Story – it is so much more.  Lin is the overlooked grinder, the hard worker, the fighter, the one who battles insane odds clinging to the idea that maybe one day he will get a chance.  Well, he got his chance.

No college scholarship, no NBA draft, repeatedly cut by teams, and above all always discounted.  It is the Rudy story, but it is real, not just a one-off feel good play or two.  Lin is leading a team, both on and off the court.  He is making the sum of the whole greater than the individual parts…in the NBA…the land of egos, guaranteed contracts and figurehead coaches.  It is staggering really.  Who knows how long it will last, but no matter what, Jeremy Lin and “Linsanity” is proof that yes, all it takes is opportunity.

Rocky, Braveheart, The Pursuit of Happyness, Dead Poets Society and “carpe diem”.  Stories, sayings, speeches and other Hollywood sap aside, it is a fact of life – all we can ever ask for is an opportunity.  Yet asking is not enough.  The lesson of Jeremy Lin is that opportunities are not given to those who ask.  Rather, they are earned.  Lin tried, he failed, he tried again.  He practiced, he focused, he fought and he persevered.  He earned his opportunity.  We all know of it because his opportunity to perform came in Madison Square Garden for the New York Knicks, a storied franchise, on the largest stage in the largest media market.  All at a moment in time when there are literally no other sports stories – crazy!

The only thing I think any of us would ask of Jeremy Lin is to not go completely Rudy on us. Your story has been amazing, there is no need to overplay it.

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Filed under Current affairs, Sports