Where is talent optimized?

Madhav Nandipati writes to me:

Hi Professor Cowen, I’ve been a follower of MR for many years.  I have a question that you may have some insights on: in what industry do you think the professional talent is closest to the best/optimal talent, and why?  Similarly, what industry do you think the professional talent has the furthest gap from the best/optimal talent?
For example, if you consider cooking, the best chefs of Indian cuisine may actually be mothers cooking for their families at home; the professional talent is not as good as it could be.  My guess where the professional talent is closest to optimal is in an industry that:
1) is relatively open (along different demographic dimensions)
2) is somewhat lucrative (to attract people to that industry)
3) uses a filtering mechanism (interviews, grades, etc.) that properly identifies talent
Maybe surgery (and to a lesser extent) acting fit those criteria?

I don’t have a way of using or citing evidence to resolve this question, but here are my intuitions:

Good at finding the best talent:

1. Highly paid professional sports (those who care can play them in high school)

2. Finance and management consulting (lots of people from top schools consider these careers, and we get enough, even if non-elites are somewhat “locked out”)

3. Nerdy tech stuff (so many people are exposed to this at a young age and can be autodidactic)

4. Real estate agents (not as smart as Bill Gates, but as good as they need to be)

In these areas very often performance can be measured fairly readily.

Bad at finding the best talent:

4. Education and teaching and religious leaders

5. Humanities scholars

6. Journalists

In general think about areas where performance is hard to measure, good producers are underpaid, and getting a start requires early social connections and mentoring.  I wonder also if “management” fits into this category.

You could take the separate tack of focusing on women and minorities, and asking in which sectors they are most likely to be unjustly excluded, and also in which sectors further talent might be needed.  (Perhaps they are excluded from some segments of finance, but perhaps also we have enough of that.)  This will mean that swimming and tennis attract the best talent less than many other sports do, because you need to have attended a high school with the proper facilities.  Or try running an art gallery or being a museum curator or writing an etiquette guide.  National politics strikes me as one area where quite a bit of talent is unjustly excluded, both women and minorities, but there are many others, including leadership positions more generally across many different sectors.

Comments

I think that an even more interesting question is to look the other way around: Where do we have wasted, unused talent? I vote STEM grad school and post docs. Nowhere else have I seen so many people wasting away years and finally giving up, and considering their career change the best decision of their lives.

Indeed. Over 80% of the people doing a PHD are not fit for academia. They are mostly people who haven't found anything to do and decided to continue school instead of trying to be proper adults.

The problem is that even private sector opportunities in the sciences require a Ph.D if you actually want to have a career in the field that goes higher than "senior lab rat".

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It really is takes like this that bring a person back to the MR comments threads.

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#2 - Due to its lucrative nature it does get an influx of the most most talented. However, measuring performance can be difficult.

#4 - (real estate) local effects may dominate.

#4 (education) - #6 — excellent.

I work in #2

it is easy to get away with mediocre output because:
1) as you say, quality is easy to judge
2) results are multi- year away. Consultants have already moved on before things (e.g. M&a) fall apart
3) there is lot of signalling - a number of times you can get away with murder if you are good looking , have the right consulting brand , went to right school or have the right accent (at least here in the UK)

Correction 1) quality is NOT easy to judge

Depends on the field. In the performing arts, it's pretty self-evident within a minute or two. I think actors, singers, and dancers should be in the first rank of optimized talent.

I used to think that the most popular singers and actors were the top talents in their fields. Then I spent a few years driving my kid tommusic lessons and going to recitals. It’s pretty startling to hear some 15 year old girl in the local music school singing better than the the finalists on ‘American Idol’. And not just occasionally, but quite often.

You need talent to make it in music and acting, but talent isn’t nearly enough. The people who rise to the top have what Hollywood/Nashville wants - it’s just that what they want is only partly about talent in music or acting.

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Reply to Dan Hanson: Popularity in the arts also rewards a talent for relentless self-promotion.

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I think acting is heavily path dependent. Once you break-in and have the required talent you keep getting casts and therefore you build up more experience and become a better actor.

Also if acting was heavily skill based then things like casting couches could not exists. Producers would need the talented actor and wouldn't be able to use their power position for sexual desires.

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Is Tyler being Straussian here? Management consulting is almost certainly not optimized, unless you have a nontraditional definition of the goal of management consultants. I've worked in a consulting firm, and spent a year in an leadership development group plucked from across the firm's "best and brightest." The quality was good, not great. Many of my business school classmates (~35% of them) went to management consulting. They were bright, but not exceptional business thinkers.

My interpretation is that management consultants are office politics mercenaries. My classmates are certainly highly optimized for that. They are well put together, pedigreed and accomplished strivers. They jumped through all the hoops to get into business school and elbowed aside their classmates in as smooth and personable a way as possible to get the highly prized job at an elite firm. If you take this view, management consultants are highly optimized.

I would make the similar case with politicians. They are incredibly well optimized for winning campaigns. They are poorly optimized for performing the duties of government. Perhaps that is Tyler's point; A little wiggle room on optimization might be a desirable thing when principal-agent problems are present.

http://ritholtz.com/2011/03/is-mckinsey-co-the-root-of-all-evil/

Clients are paying for the slide decks.

The thinking is pedestrian.

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You give several excellent examples of talent optimization problems, but the one in politics in democracies is particularly bad. You're selected on ability to run a campaign, and/or win battles in war, and/or (these days) being popular in the media. The first two do have some passing relationship to their ability to discharge the duties of an executive or legislator but the third doesn't. This is just one particularly bad case of "ability to game the talent search mechanism does not equal ability to do job".

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"You could take the separate tack of focusing on women and minorities, and asking in which sectors they are most likely to be unjustly excluded"

...

And in which sectors they're unjustly included and/or promoted via affirmative action and the like.

Are you implying that O and Heilary are not alone in having been absurdly over-promoted?

I think the case is clearer with Heilary: O at least was a masterly exploiter of the teleprompter.

...most qualified presidential candidate ever.

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+1. state government has a massive mismatch of talent, due to the above, and to union protections

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Sports is the obvious one; especially the ones that many play (we can be pretty sure that the best soccer players are the best on Earth). Finance / consulting is also good as a more "professional" example (though the skill set for a junior banker and a senior banker is very different).

For bad, I would nominate acting; there's not a standard screening process and "making it" largely depends on who you know and pure luck. How many movies are there where a director chooses to go with normal non-actors who end up doing a really good job? WAY more than there should be. Imagine grabbing someone off the street and telling them to go at it in any other profession.

It's not that acting does a bad job at selecting the best; it's that there are WAY more people who want to act than we need, and there's very little difference between a competent actor and the "best" one.

For sure, you may have some favorite actors, but it's not because they are better. It's because you saw them in an enjoyable movie beforehand, and you associate that experience with the movie you are currently watching. And it certainly doesn't hurt that you see them on magazine covers and receiving awards. And shilling the political party you prefer.

Sorry folks, there are at least 10,000 people who could have been Meryl Streep or Robert DeNiro.

Hollywood does just fine picking out competent actors out of a vast sea of actors who are 90% equivalent. And thanks to Harvey Weinstein, now you know how they make their selections.

Don't put your daughter on the stage, Mrs. Worthington
Don't put your daughter on the stage
The profession is overcrowded
And the struggle's pretty tough
And admitting the fact
She's burning to act
That isn't quite enough

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You mean DeNiro...

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Add to that the problem that acting talent is hard to separate from the talent of the director and editor. Some actors manage to get connected to great directors and turn out consistently great works. Put the same actor in the hands of a hack, and they can look like hacks too.

A good editor will also know which takes to use to avoid making the charactor look inconsistent, and when to cut something because the actor didn’t quite pull it off. Any movie can be recut to make actors look bad.

My vote for the best alignment between talent and requirements would be the individual Olympic sports. If you hold the world record in an Olympic sport, chances are you are only one of a handful of people in the world who could have done so.

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If it is so easy to make a star (we just have ro see him in a good movie), why winner take all? If any carpenter can become a Harrison Ford, why are star salaries so big?

Not many ppl can become stars, not because they lack the talent but because there aren't many openings for new talent in blockbusters and/or the public doesn't spread their attention across many stars at a given time. Once someone has become a star, studios may estimate that attaching them to a movie will generate excess revenues which will more than cover the difference in pay between them and a non-star.

In sum, perhaps any carpenter can become Harrison Ford, but once one does, the giant amounts he gets paid are justified by the revenues he generates over a freshie Harrison Ford 2.0.

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Banking might actually be fairly weak. Professional sports will find talented kids and train them. Searching thru poor villages in latin america etc for baseball players.

Banking has a very set path to making it. Target university, banking for two years, pe for 2 years, business school, back to banking/pe/hedge fund etc. Some people do make it on alternate paths, but a lot of it is getting on the path early. You can't get the first banking job after university unless you were already on that path at a young age (which is the advantage upper class kids have). Alternate paths do exists, but the bulk of the talent comes thru a very regimented pipeline.

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7- Blogging?

Blogging : Not really. How often have you read a really bad blog a second time?

Many times. Bad blogs are the one that need insightful commenters.

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The reason good religious leaders are hard to find is the best one died on the cross, while the best moral leader drank hemlock in prison.

Plato was a hypocritical charlatan.

He did say he was a moral leader. What else would you expect?

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“Moral courage is the most valuable and usually the most absent characteristic in men”. George S. Patton

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Plato was neither crucified nor a suicide

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A lot of otherwise talented people wind up in economics. That's pretty much a dead loss.

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"This will mean that swimming and tennis attract the best talent less than many other sports do, because you need to have attended a high school with the proper facilities. "
Talent identification and development in both begins *long* before high school. Unless you count IMG, I doubt top athletes in either sport even play on their school team.

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the insurance industry, and perhaps other industries that are heavily regulated (including those like insurance that should be regulated).

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GIven the competitive nature of sports I think talent is optimized pretty well. For example, if you do not hit a baseball as well as your peers it will soon become obvious.

But how are the relative skills of a financial consultant analyzed? How does one know if someone is good or bad?

Also, the financial crisis of was caused in large part by financial managers who held on to fraudulent mortgage debt and did not get out before the buyers fully realized the extent of the fraud I fail to see how this collective talent was utilized. Selling shoddy products in an activity associated with "fly by night" operators. Many of the large financial operators waited until the sun had come up.

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Maybe I misunderstood the question, but I thought the reader was asking about the professions where the talent needed and the talent of those in it were most or least matched; thus, some professions don't need much talent and may attract just the talent needed. Of course, "talent" doesn't necessarily mean "intelligent"; after all, there are many talented politicians who are as dumb as bricks. MR's least favorite economist pointed out recently that many if not most economists these days have great talent at pleasing those who fund them notwithstanding their dubious scholarship. I'd describe that as a match, wouldn't you? Maybe not a match made in heaven, but a match nevertheless.

Regarding economists, your example is most or least matched? It seems the same rationale as you give for politicians.

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That wouldn’t be the Nobel Winning economist who predicted that the stock market would never recover to its highs after the last election, would it?

My candidate for worst matched talent would be the hordes of scientists who think they can predict, plan and control large complex systems. We have large numbers of people who have spent their careers predicting things like future GDP, the movement of stock prices, and other complex phenomenon without ever having their predictions be better than chance. But not only do their careers thrive, they’ve managed to set themselves up as thought leaders and advisors to presidents and CEOs who then take their bogus predictions and use them to create very bad policies.

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Good lists, although I would elevate politics to be one of the bullet points instead of in the also-ran category.

Some people claim that in #2, too many of the most talented people go into finance instead of areas where they could do more good (but make less money). One would have to create an externality argument for that to work, or some sort of government-caused distortion that needs to be counter-acted. Not impossible, but not easy to make a strong argument for that.

Pols belong in line 4, for the same reasons as those:

"4. Education and teaching and religious leaders"

We seldom get to see people do, we just hear them describe how they do.

(Whether they are actually good takes years to see.)

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Or, it may turn out that the critics simply don’t understand the value of the financial industry.

Perhaps one of the categories for worst talent should be, ‘people who report on the finance industry’.

I think for those of use who are laymen, the value of community banks is something one can readily grasp. Even something rather remote like big time commercial banking or securities underwriting is facially useful. Where it gets puzzling is the social utility of all the speculative activity which goes on.

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Funny that the first group gets so much blaming for being discriminatory, patriarchal, and cisnormative, and the second group is where all virtue supposedly resides.

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Low level corporate management. It's not uncommon to see people very talented at task work get promoted into management even though they show no promise as managers. Once in that role, they are often stuck because moving them out would be seen as a demotion.

I had a friend who was a very good technical engineer, but hated management. So of course he was promoted to management, even after he tried to reject the promotion and explain why he was a terrible choice. He was promoted anyway, and hated it. He demanded to be demoted back to where he was, and that pretty much ruined his career. He wasn’t a ‘team player’, because he didn’t ‘step up’. Never mind that he voluntarily worked 12 hour days because he loved the work and was one of the most productive engineers in the place.

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More posts like this please!

3 made me think of the Jeffrey Hammerbacher quote, 'The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads'. But that's probably a different question...

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Bad:

Farming - with farms passing from generation to generation, it is often dumb luck if Junior is skilled and motivated, and because of the near impossible financial burden involved with starting a modern production farm from the ground up, we're left with Junior for better or worse.

Interesting point but I disagree. Junior, unless he is very dumb, knows what being a farmer is about. Actually knowing what the occupation is going to be like is very beneficial. The farmer that I know works with his neighbors and employs his neighbors. This is valuable and it is hard to teach. Motivation is somewhat irrelevant because if you don't harvest your crops, you wouldn't be farming for long. Sports is complicated. Player x signs a 50 million dollar contract and gets hurt. He comes back but never performs above the level of a league minimum player. Player x just costed his team, lets say 46 million dollars. It is very rare for Junior to cost anyone 46 million.

Thanks for the reply, Mark. My thoughts center on the idea that because there is very little competition to be the heir of a working farm these days as farm family sizes has become smaller (my grandfather had to compete with 4 siblings for the farm, my father competed with two, and now me, with no competition), the gap between optimum talent in the field and actual talent is not as tight as would be in a field with a much larger pool of competitors and actual job interviews, contract negotiations and let's be honest, money.

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If junior does not know how to farm, he has the ready option of selling out and doing something new. The days where you could be an unskilled farmer are long gone. It is vastly harder to make a living as a small scale farmer now and those that do are almost always vastly more efficient at getting more money from fewer resources than the large scale agribusinesses that can spread capital expenses over larger operations. Now this may be from milking agricultural subsidies, but that in of itself requires a lot of efficiency to make happen on a decent scale.

Pretty much all the "juniors" these days are the tail end of a consolidation process where neighbors buy out neighbors. After all, the agribusiness buyers are quite willing to buy your farm most of the time.

Thanks for the reply, Sure! There is so much family obligation and pride in farming, mediocre farmers will hold on with white knuckles to their family legacy. Selling out is not common, at least in my neighborhood. They'd rather go down with the ship, or maybe not even realize the ship is going down until their banker tells them. Coming from a farmer.

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This is exactly backwards. One of the most important things to have as a farmer is ‘local knowledge’. Knowledge of the state of the machinery. Knowing the weak spots in the fenceline. Understand what will grow where, the places where the ground is too rocky to cultivate, the best local people to call to fix problems, yada yada.

I would put Junior up against an out-of-state Ph.D in agriculture any day, if the measurement criteria is who can actually pull the crops in and get them to market efficiently enough to keep the farm alive.

Failure to learn the importance of local knowledge is what led to the foolishness of collective farming. Putting ‘scientists’ in charge and ignoring those old gap-toothed farmers was bound to increase production, y’know?

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Bad: 7. Large lecture hall teachers in the sciences, math, and economics. Some fraction of great scientists also happens to be great in the lecture hall, but it is not a large fraction. The willingness of many, if not most, departments to farm the largest courses off to adjuncts is one signal about how these courses (often introductory, service courses) are valued internally.

As for Humanities scholars, I would argue that, similarly, the expected combination of research, teaching (and, within teaching, to service classes, UG majors, and to grad students), and service is rarely met in an optimal way, leading to a preference for those who are adequate in all fields rather than outstanding in fewer. (Add to it that grading in the Humanities is a far more time-consuming task than in subject in which electronic correction plays a role, graduate assistants are not as frequently tasked with corrections, and mistakes in language skills are typically overlooked.)

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John Kenneth Galbraith, in his “Money: Whence it came, where it went” (1975), writing about “The Impeccable System”, mentions “the belief, endemic in all American political attitudes, than an expert becomes such by appointment to the appropriate position”.

In this respect the more important the position is, the less understood the subject at hand is, is and the less someone who holds the position is subject to public scrutiny and accountability, the further away could the needed professional talent be “to the best/optimal talent”

Like in the case of central bankers and bank regulators :-)

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Surgery (and many medical specialties, esp. highly compensated ones) should be on the list of 'Bad at finding best talent.' There's no way to show aptitude for a surgical specialty before medical school, and there is no mechanism for good surgeons to rise to the top, and bad surgeons to be identified and punished. If you make it into a surgical residency, you will succeed, even if you faked your way into med school and your surgical success rate is terrible. There is essentially no mechanisms to make sure aging surgeons learn the newest techniques, and no checks on waning competency. It is only because the training is so long and difficult that it isn't a complete disaster.

Policing should also be on the list. It's another job where, like being a surgeon, once you've made it into the profession, you have to fail spectacularly to be kicked out. At least half the police officers I know shouldn't be allowed to carry firearms, much less have the power of life and death over ordinary citizens.

Animation producers is another area, surprisingly. For all the money in the animation industry, the people running it are rarely of even slightly above average intelligence and talent. I guess this group would be under "managers," but the selection and winnowing process in the animation industry is such that the quality of management is spectacularly poor. The entry into the producer track is the PA, which is close to a long-term unpaid internship in which one is promoted based not on skill but on fealty to one's immediate superior. No entry qualifications are enforced, except the willingness to work ridiculous hours for less than minimum wage for years on end. People with talent, taste, and judgment bail quickly, and advancement is based on parameters that are disconnected to actual performance.

I'm not sure education and teaching should be so high on the list of "bad." It's true that tenure and union rules and school politics select for mediocre teachers in many cases, but any eager student can quickly and easily figure out who the talented teachers are in their school, and select their classes. That doesn't work so well in K-12, but in those situations savvy parents and students still find ways to empower the best teachers. And with the internet, star teachers can readily advertise their quality, at least at the college level.

It’s interesting that there seems to be no market niche for k-12 schools staffed with “best teachers”. I don’t recall ever even hearing the claim.

I'm having trouble parsing your comment. Who made the claim that there are k-12 schools staffed with "best teachers?"

My point was that as far as I know, no one even makes that claim. I would think that there would be a market for really effective schools staffed with 100% "best" teachers.

While I suspect that many people can fairly effectively subjectively separate the "good" from the "bad" teachers, I don't see any real world mechanism in place to identify ans sort the best ones. I think its interesting, from an economics point of view, that this niche seems empty.

Yes, IQ becomes locked in at what, age 7 or so? The early years are the most important for lifelong achievement.

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I'd think this might be put into practice into private school which recruited and retained "best" teachers like a sports team, with premium pay and working conditions (which would include the type of management support that for example ensured they had no discipline problems to deal with). In return the school would expect and market excellent results. I suspect that there are a lot of really excellent people who might consider teaching in that environment who the current schools can't attract or retain.

In the same sense a sports team might strive for an all star roster, so would the school strive for an all master teacher roster. I would think there are a lot of parents these days would pay a premium for that sort of environment and effective teaching.

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Again, I doubt teacher performance is sensitive to financial incentives. My schoolteacher aunt's take on merit pay schemes many years ago was that in the social ecosystem which is the typical elementary school, they'd be dumping rubbing alcohol on the usual office-politics embers.

Just a suggestion: making their environment satisfactory to them will keep the more capable teachers on board. Improving the mean quality of the teacher corps is going to consist of assiduous efforts to expel unsuitable teachers.

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@Engineer - I see. I'm sure a school with "all-star teachers" could charge a premium, but there are already schools that charge a premium for a variety of reasons (methodology, like Montessori schools, or facilities/great location/small classes/etc.). Those 'premium' schools appear to generally do quite well according to student accomplishment, but they also tend to attract families that put a premium on education. Isn't there good data that good student peers are much more important for student outcome than good teachers? Is it possible that "all star teachers" aren't a sufficient, and possibly not even a necessary, part of the equation?

@Art Deco - I agree that one of the best things that could happen for overall teacher quality is to simply chase out the bad ones. The very worst teachers have a noxious effect on the entire school, not just their own class. I think there's only so much good a great teacher can do, while there is a lot of damage a terrible teacher can cause.

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Don't many elite private K-12 schools at least implicitly make that claim? Some only hire teachers with advanced degrees, for example (though perhaps that is only high schools). Now, does an advanced degree make someone a good teacher? Probably not, but then there are few objective measures of K-12 teacher quality, and of course all that a school needs in order to fill that niche is the appearance of teacher quality. But that goes back the the original post's observation that it is very difficult to assess quality in a teacher. (Not to mention that different parents have different criteria for teacher quality, and that parents look for many things in a school other than teacher quality [again, more so in higher grades]).

It would increase the bargaining power of the teachers too much, and they could threaten to leave unless they were given very high salaries. It would only work as a business model if such schools were partnerships.

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The talent that makes a good traditional surgeon may not be the talent that makes a good robotic surgeon, something more than a few patients have discovered too late. I'm neither, but it seems that those best suited for robotic surgery are those who spent their childhood playing computer games. I'm reminded of Bones, the physician in the Star Trek series. What exactly was his talent? Besides overacting, I mean?

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Pretty much all of medicine is terribly stratified. The big determinate of elite placement is USMLE and Med school. Mass recall, multiple guess strategy, and poorly phrased question parsing is basically useless for real world medicine, but those are the primary things USMLE measures (made worse by the fact that USMLE is calibrated for maximum sensitivity at the pass/fail mark and terrible at the upper reaches). Getting into a good medical school is even more terrible - MCAT, undergrad, networking, and maybe some nice narrative of your research/service/extracurriculars.

And of course on top of all that, the applicant pool for medical school swings heavily around the economy. A large number of docs are in it for the prestige and money and there is a pretty nice bump up in med school applicant quality when the economy tanks.

I would hazard a guess that in general professions that have the most direct quality measures are the most efficient with talent. It is easy to pay a few grand and cram a few more points out of your step one score without becoming a better doctor. It is hard to do anything that increases your RBIs that does not make you a better baseball player. Likewise, I suspect sales is pretty good at allocating talent you either are bringing in more money or you are not. Professions that have lots of tangentially related metrics (e.g. SAT, MCAT, USMLE, GRE, LSAT, positive customer feedback, MS, PhD) are going to be worse as it is almost always easier to target the metric than actual performance improvement.

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I agree that surgery (and medicine as a whole) belongs on the bad list. Quality is very difficult to measure. There is an intense selection process, but it selects on attributes that are, at best, tangential to actually being a good doctor. It's very hard to get into medical school, but once there there is close to zero probability of being pushed out for poor performance--you really have to work hard at getting kicked out!

But I somewhat disagree with Kevin's remark that "There is essentially no mechanisms to make sure aging surgeons learn the newest techniques, and no checks on waning competency. " Today hospitals are reluctant to give operating room privileges to a surgeon who does not have current board certification. Board certification, once given for life after successful completion of an exam after residency, is now granted only for a period of up to 10 years (depending on the specialty) and must be maintained with evidence of continuing education, practice performance assessment, and an exam. While I would agree that the re-certification process is far from perfect, it does have the ability to weed out some of the most deteriorated. And, interestingly, the American Board of Surgery's maintenance of certification requirements are probably the most stringent of any medical specialty.

Conflict of Interest Disclosure: I am a former member and Chair of the American Board of Preventive Medicine and a former delegate to the American Board of Medical Specialties.

I've no clue who this chimerical 'good doctor' is to which you're all referring. The most troublesome members of the medical profession I've ever encountered were those who (1) prescribed with abandon (and I'm guessing they did that in response to importuning patients) and (2) were oriented toward repairing things when the patient they were dealing with couldn't be fixed, only managed. I don't imagine the medical profession could be resegmented to create a class of doctors whose book was primary care of the chronically ill, and that's a pity. Another problem crew are psychiatrists, though the nature of the problem seems to vary a great deal from one generation of head-shrinker to another.

Psychiatrist here. Some of the best doctors I have met have been psychiatrists, and some of the worst doctors I have met have been psychiatrists. I don't think that's the result of the training process, it's just the people who are innately drawn to the specialty. To some degree you can make the argument that the subjective nature of the field makes talent ID and sorting more difficult, but that's less defensible as time goes on and we have more data. In general though, people's choice of (and ability to get into) a specialty is more determined by desire for money and is not clearly constrained except at the extremes (i.e. if you're on the autism spectrum or have terrible visuospatial reasoning, you're going to have a hard time getting letters to go into psychiatry or surgery resp. - but even then it still might happen!) Competitiveness is largely related to compensation, and that changes over time, e.g. 25 years ago people made fun of derms but now it's super competitive - I wonder why that is? Did dermatology become more intellectually demanding over time?

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I'm glad to read that the re-certification process is helping maintain quality. That said, it always struck me that the only people who know who the really good surgeons are are the other doctors in the OR. As a med student and resident I had a good sense of who the best surgeons were at the hospitals I rotated through. When I needed surgery years later, I felt pretty helpless. And though everything @Sure wrote above is true, I think some medical specialties are easier for consumers to judge quality.

For example, a pediatrician or family doc is likely to be doing what they do because they like it and are drawn to the work, not because they wanted money or prestige (yeah, there are some FMGs and marginal US grads who fill those slots because they couldn't get a prestige specialty slot). And once in practice, families and parents experience quality first hand, and they talk to each other.

I am not so sure.

For instance, there is a local doc who is highly rated in family medicine and keeps killing his patients. I have diagnosed multiple of his patients with recurrent prostate cancer with just a chart review because he is just checking their lab values against normal (post prostatectomy any PSA, at all, shows cancer has come back; the lab value for "normal" assumes a man has a prostate). He is also bad about ordering imaging according to guidelines and is a bit unhealthily fond of hormone replacement therapy. Yet he is exceedingly highly rated, and I can understand why. He calls patients back. He has office hours that are late at night. He appears to take at least 20 minutes per patient for a visit.

Nonetheless, every doctor I know tells friends and family to avoid him. Pulling his license takes more time than just waiting for him to retire at this point. And this is not uncommon.

Surgeons, for instance get judged by their patients not so much for how few complications they have, how much internal anatomy they preserve, or how little anesthesia exposure they get, but almost invariably by the surgeon's demeanor and their ability to close superficial wounds with minimal scarring.

Emergency docs, well we get all manner of "you saved my life"s that are totally unearned. The paramedics knew you were having a heart attack and basically all I did was get some lines going while they prepped the cath lab to actually save your life. Likewise, pretty much anyone can administer epinephrine, but patients give us insanely good marks for spotting obvious anaphylaxis and doing what is not fortunately legal for EMTs to do. Patients judge us not on our ability to rapidly diagnose life threatening conditions (i.e. do you have regular back pain, pyelonephritis, or AAA) correctly and quickly, they judge us on did they see us quickly (which is usually a resource issue), were we nice enough when we saw them, and how big was their bill (I'm sorry but the powers that be have decided to split overhead cost equally among all visits).

And it seems like this happens in all specialties. A friend of mine is an ObGyn who regularly gets rated down whenever a patient loses a pregnancy. He is literally the guy I told my sister to see, yet people rate him more poorly simply for being male (he has a gender neutral first name).

I always tell people you are not paying me for 90% of what I do. You are paying me to make sure you are not in the 10% and to keep you alive when your number comes up. That sort of 10% work is mostly invisible to patients, but it is the stuff that truly makes a good doctor. It does not matter if we are talking diabetes management or even psychosis management; the hard stuff is decidedly boring and often is immediately unpleasant for the patient. Maybe I am wrong, but when I am a patient I really care about that hard to spot 10%.

You mention ratings - do you mean the online rating sites? My experience is those websites are rarely used, and few pay attention to them. Most negative comments are about waiting room times, and difficulty scheduling appointments. Nothing to do with medical quality. I think those sites are little used because most people either go to the specialist they're referred to, or to the one doctor (if that) who is on their plan and has openings within the next month.

And you're right that patients are terrible at judging good care. That's why I listed surgeons in particular - patients have scant way to judge the pre-op diagnosis and plan, and absolutely no way of knowing what happened during their surgery. Further, they will almost never need to see that surgeon again. Even other doctors have little ability to know who the good surgeons are. So there is no feedback mechanism to identify the best. There often isn't even a good mechanism to identify the worst of the worst.

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I mean online rating sites, the various publications "top doc" awards, and the internal health system metrics. The latter are the most galling, but as market forces and ACA force everything in healthcare to vertically integrate the days of independent docs are limited. So the large healthcare systems that run everything from Family Med/ObGyn to hospice care and everything in between have taken to paying physicians according to metrics. For the healthcare system the money is in volume so they prefer docs who are nice to docs who save patients' lives. It appears to be an increasingly common practice to tie physician compensation to patient feedback.

Some of the physicians who top the internal metrics are simply terrible docs. But they get boosted by high RVU churn, high patient satisfaction, and a willingness to do things that make higher ups happy (e.g. later hours, more on-call coverage).

Metrics in general are very hard for healthcare. For instance say you pay me less if you are readmitted to the hospital. I can either try to get you better situated in the hospital with the right internist, and try to get you to be more compliant when you leave ... or I can hedge on admission in marginal cases. The latter takes up space if I do a lot of sit and wait and if taken to extremes kills patients, but it is much more effective than dealing with the complicated mess of patient adherence at home. Likewise, judging surgeons based on complications is, by far, most easily improved by operating on healthier, more compliant patients.

The real thing we want to measure are gains in life expectancy, unfortunately you kinda need to wait for people to die to measure those directly. I have heard some schemes about writing some sort of life expectancy financial options that payout when a patient reaches a certain age and letting market price sort out physicians, but I suspect those are utterly unpalatable and I am not convinced they will find useful predictors.

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"That said, it always struck me that the only people who know who the really good surgeons are are the other doctors in the OR." And the nurses, who have to manage patient recovery from botched jobs, starting right after surgery.

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"Animation producers is another area, surprisingly. For all the money in the animation industry, the people running it are rarely of even slightly above average intelligence and talent. I guess this group would be under “managers,” but the selection and winnowing process in the animation industry is such that the quality of management is spectacularly poor. The entry into the producer track is the PA, which is close to a long-term unpaid internship in which one is promoted based not on skill but on fealty to one’s immediate superior. No entry qualifications are enforced, except the willingness to work ridiculous hours for less than minimum wage for years on end. People with talent, taste, and judgment bail quickly, and advancement is based on parameters that are disconnected to actual performance."

How is it any different from being a producer anywhere else in show business?

Live-action filmmaking is a much shorter turn around, and typically involves fewer producers at the top of the food chain. Producers who don't succeed are weeded out. Also, live-action directors and writers (and sometimes actors) are much more powerful, and won't work with idiots, unless the idiot is very talented or well connected or well funded. It's a less hierarchical situation, and there is a premium on aggression, talent, instincts, moxie, connection, skills, and luck. None of that is the case in animation.

I worked on one of the biggest animated hits of all time (actually, it was one of the biggest feature film hits of all time). One producer had fallen into animation production after failing as a live-action screen writer. He worked on a minor but early CG animated project as a 'coordinator' (an intermediate production job, which is mostly scheduling) and then got hired at my studio based on a highly inflated resume and claims of CGI knowledge he didn't have. He was one of 4-5 producers on a couple of films that did OK, and then one of 5-6 producers on the huge hit. These films take about 4-5 years to complete, so he was getting a good salary for years while contributing nothing (there was only one producer who actually "produced" among this crowd). After this failed screen writer had his name on this massive blockbuster, he was fired from that studio (it had become too obvious that he was an empty suit, the worst of this weak group, and the other producers hated sharing the bonus pool money with him). He immediately got a job heading a new animation studio. It failed after one film, at a loss of probably $150 million. He continues to have a very lucrative consulting business, travels the world, and is worth many tens of millions.

So you are seeking revenge.

???

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At least half the police officers I know shouldn’t be allowed to carry firearms,

I'm sorry you don't like your brother-in-law. Don't imagine he cares for you either.

You say you are sorry, but you are not.

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Another reason the general quality of our law enforcement is so bad is there is a segment of the population that venerates them and act as apologists, no matter how egregious the bad apples are, and how widespread the abuses.

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A surprising percent (20?) of cops, especially in corrupt Blue urban areas, are hardly qualified to deliver mail (given their physical and - to a lesser extent - metal inabilities).

Handling of firearms in a law enforcement domain requires consistent training that most agencies won't do. (Cost is an issue - but so is the union mindset of Everyone Passes). Note that the average citizen CCW holder has a much simpler mission; he can (and should) avoid most threatening situations.

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My twelve old son once said to me about a rather heavy police man "why is that man a police officer? I can out run him"

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Shorter truth: Meritocracy works much better than socialism, and the gaps widens even more as it allows more people to participate.

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Bad at finding relevant talent? It has to be law enforcement. The profession, if it can be referred to by that term, attracts sociopaths and the very criminals it attempts to control and converts the rare altruist to super-cynicism.

No, it's practitioners are a decent lot but the target of sociopaths who libel them in comboxes.

An example of the unholy nexus between bad law enforcement and inferior journalism: http://nailheadtom.blogspot.com/2018/01/photographs-of-evil-people.html

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https://mises.org/wire/law-enforcement-not-same-thing-security

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It's worth asking which professions are subject to large familiarity bias. Sales would seem like it would have optimal talent because it recruits from a large pool and performance is obvious. But, managers are very likely to recruit a narrow profile, dominated by sports and attractive people. Even if these backgrounds correlate with sales success, it's likely that many potential high performers are never considered.

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B2B sales should be number 2 behind professional sports.

Pharmaceuticals?

Yes. But software as a service (SaaS) companies are the real leaders in hyper-measured/optimized/accountable sales these days.

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4. Education and teaching and religious leaders 5. Humanities scholars 6. Journalists. In general think about areas where performance is hard to measure, good producers are underpaid, and getting a start requires early social connections and mentoring. I wonder also if “management” fits into this category.

I'm a trifle puzzled as to who you're referring to under category 4. It appears to be schoolteachers and clergymen. Not clear why you put them under the same subheading.

'Getting a start' as a schoolteacher or a clergyman does not require 'early social connections'.(and, in fact, most ordinands these days are on their second career). No clue why you fancy 'mentoring' is more consequential in these occupations than it would be in any other occupation. Nor is it clear to me how one would define a 'good producer' with sufficient specificity to influence a salary scale. That aside, most people are satisficers, not optimizers. Those who go into religious life or public employment are (one might wager) quite insensitive to financial incentives once certain consumption and security baselines are met.

There are certainly more challenging ways to make a living than teaching school, ministering, studying the humanities, or journalism. So, you lose out on those who have other options. OTOH, being deployed in an occupation that makes suboptimal use of your talents may induce performance problems. Also, people who are highly talented in one realm may also harbor performance problems which would not be troublesome in that more challenging setting but which are in the setting they're in. By way of example, I know of a woman many years ago who'd gone into schoolteaching after a stint in a technical job that she'd obtained through her husband's employment and another stint as a housewife with small children. She was a superlatively intelligent woman (PhD in Chemistry), but an indifferent teacher because she was too much of a scatterbrain to explain things in an orderly way. She really should have been on a college faculty or working in a research position at Kodak. One of her office mates was much less extensively schooled (master's from the local polytechnic), but a much better teacher.

I suspect the problem you get with teaching is one identified by Thomas Sowell (among others): the screening mechanisms actually reduce the quality of the applicant pool. Another problem I've seen is that institutional politics in district schools tend to incorporate one of the subsidiary points of the Peter Principle: the supercompetent get fired, because they disrupt the system. Also, the degree to which schools are subject to offsite compliance people with stupid social ideologies generates disciplinary problems which injure the quality of life for schoolteachers. The ones with better options leave the profession.

In journalism, you've seen a wretched economic implosion and the economy hasn't hit bottom yet. It's a reasonable wager that the pool of people attending j-schools today is liberally salted with those suffering superlatively poor judgment. That aside, there's been a secular decay in the professional culture of journalism. Read what James Kilgallan had to say about his work at the end of his career. The man was a reporter and was dogged with any kind of assignment. He wasn't some resentful little bastard who wanted to take down the quondam jocks.

As for the clergy, you've got a set of self-reinforcing problems. People seek ordination for the wrong reasons, the ones who seek it for the right reasons get weeded out in the discernment process or by divinity school and seminary faculties. The faculties themselves are dominated with literary critics manque - people who want to play with texts but aren't interested in the historic and transcendent mission of their denominations. You've also got a problem with gay cliques in faculties and in the denominational apparat. At the parish level, people actually interested in religion as a doctrinal or moral system are a minority and the rest are often abraded by a serious clergyman and will use their influence to see that he's out on his ass.

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This will mean that swimming and tennis attract the best talent less than many other sports do, because you need to have attended a high school with the proper facilities.

Swimming pools have been bog standard in high schools for nearly 50 years.

Maybe swimming pools have been standard in high schools for nearly 50 years in your neck of the woods. Maybe you need to get around a bit more.

I grew up in a perfectly average part of the country. The slum high schools had them. As for what people's expectations have been, see It's a Wonderful Life, released in 1946. Depicted therein is a high school swimming pool. Here's an example in a rural school district which has about 3,000 residents

http://www.secsd.org/

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No, they haven't. Period.

Yes they have. I'm sorry, but Montana ain't the rest of the country.

It's strange that you can opine so grandly, and with such assurance, about what you think happens everywhere in the US.

In the school district where I grew up (one of the largest in the US) none of the high schools to my knowledge had pools.

In the school district where I currently reside (also among the nation's largest) only a handful of the 22 high schools have pools.

I don't know why I felt the need to interject on something of such little importance, but your near-absolute certainty about pools being the "bog standard" based on no facts or evidence is irksome.

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The rich NJ high school I went to didn't have them.

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You are both assuming that schools have sports facilities, and that they are somehow connected with organized sports. That is not the case all across the world. My high school in Italy had no sports facilities at all, since the building was a XIII century monastery inside the medieval city walls. That is very common. Some schools will have a gym, but having a swimming pool or a tennis court is absolutely unheard of.

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As someone who just bought a house I have a few comments on real estate agents, acknowledging that this is just one observation.
I suppose it's possible that agents are optimally talented in terms of closing the maximum number of deals in the shortest time possible, but they're not really optimal in terms of serving the buyer's needs all the time. Once the buyer is under contract, the agent pretty much just wants to close the deal. Plus they seem often reluctant to offer all but the most guarded advice for fear that it will make buyer hesitant to make an offer. Also, the array of closing costs associated with a home purchase are extremely opaque and agents don't show much enthusiasm for reducing them. I got the impression that each agent works with a network of businesses (home inspectors, bankers, title insurance agencies and lawyers), who all effectively get a cut out of the deal almost like a kickback. You can pick your own title insurer and so forth, but the agent will push you to use their preferred people, and it's difficult to shop around in the limited time frame you have. Basically, in that time period after signing the contract to when you close on the home, there's limited competition and the agent's incentives radically shift. So you kind of have a fairly efficient market in the shopping phase, but a not very efficient market in the deal-closing phase.

the array of closing costs associated with a home purchase are extremely opaque

You're supposed to be an aerospace engineer math-whiz. Don't break character.

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"...but they’re not really optimal in terms of serving the buyer’s needs all the time."

But that's not really the question is it? Isn't the question, what professions optimize, or don't, individual talent based on the success criteria for that field? The criteria for success in real estate sales is closed sales, not customer satisfaction. The hard part of real estate sales is getting a seller under contract and then getting the seller to accept a buyer's offer...all the rest is just administration.

The criteria for success in real estate sales is closed sales, not customer satisfaction.

No surprise. You either closed the sale or you didn't, and closing the sale means revenue. Reliable measures of 'customer satisfaction' are harder to come by and their effect on revenue harder to discern.

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Right. My point is that the agent's incentives change in a way that is sub-optimal for the buyer. Which is another way of saying that what determines optimality is not based on best service to the consumer. Which is unusual - in most markets doing the best job possible for the customer is the primary determinant of success.

But the "consumer" is not the buyer, it's the seller.

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I've bought 5 and sold 4 house over the years, and was fairly involved (family) with 1 additional sale, and 1 condo buy and sell. I'd access the real estate agents as mostly generally "OK, got the job done", with 1 above that mark and 2 below. One of the "well below" was a discount broker (family choice). Not one of them I'd grade as outstanding enough to recommend to someone else.

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Re: closing costs. The RE agent isn't the person that works those items. That's the attorney and finance guys/gals in the lenders' offices. It's not all costs. There will be some payments adjusting for prepaid taxes paid by the seller, odd-days interest to first scheduled loan payment date, etc.

I've bought three houses and sold two. The sales were done without benefit of a RE agent. (Don't tell my son's father-in-law.) I was (now retired) an accounting, finance, lending, RE appraisal type guy, and I worked with a close friend lawyer who I trust implicitly. That being said, in the most recent sale, for the life of us, we could not balance the debits and credits (out of balance a hundred or so dollars). It was not worth worrying about.

Yeah, but the agent *could* provide a service to the buyer in the form of helping negotiate lower closing costs. They just don't, or it does not seem to by typical for the industry.

In a perfect world; however as now you know, these deals are for the lay person highly complicated. In fact, they are beyond the typical buyer's capabilities.

Don't get me started on the ethics of RE agents, used car salesmen, the gestapo, . . . .

My dealings with car salesman have been congenial. In my family, we've had trouble with auto repair shops, but not in the last 35 years.

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You could take the separate tack of focusing on women and minorities, and asking in which sectors they are most likely to be unjustly excluded,

They're not 'unjustly excluded' anywhere.

Stop it man! You are kiilin me.

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I think there are two different ways of asking the question, depending on the comparison group. Are you (1) comparing the relevant professional to someone asked to step in perform the task tomorrow without any additional training? Or are you (2) comparing the relevant professional to someone provided with equivalent years of training and experience then asked to perform the task?

#1 is basically a measure of how unique/specialized the training is. Surgeons score extremely high by this standard. It would be virtually impossible for someone to step in and perform a heart transplant tomorrow who is not a surgeon today (maybe some veterinarians?) I think most assembly line workers would also score extremely high here -- it doesn't take much training at all for these positions, but no one who doesn't do the job would know how to step in with no training and use the relevant equipment/follow the relevant procedures.

#2 is trickier and harder to figure. Surgeons probably don't score high here, for the reasons noted by other commenters. Professional athletes probably do because the relevant skill set is fairly identifiable and there's a very concerted effort to seek out individuals with high potential then provide them with training (especially in baseball and basketball).

I'm sure that finance and management consulting do not qualify here, given that essentially only those with elite college educations are considered (having such an education is essentially a measure of how well you did in high school, and I seriously doubt that's a good predictor of potential as a banker/consultant).

Another group probably satisfying #2 would be fields where little talent is required. The guy at the top of the amusement park water slide who says "go" after the previous rider reaches the bottom is doing his job as well as anyone could do it.

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Inclusion of religious leaders in conjunction with talent and leadership is a fascinating topic. I've often wondered what a McKinsey re-org would do or suggest for denominations. As a practicing one, the conflicts that lead to the sub-optimization are apparent.
1. Most people who might "hear the call" who can do almost anything else eventually realize Jesus' response that "foxes have holes and birds have nests, but the son of man has nowhere to lay his head" and go do that something else.

2. What congregations think the minister and bishops are for, what many of those who enter the ministry think they are for, and what the scripture says they are for are all different things. The congregations all think "he's the glad-handing guy we all loved a couple pastors ago". Most of those who enter think it has something to do with "helping people". The scriptures of course say "it is the cross". The result is typically that "talent" ends up like the one who was given "one talent" - it gets buried in the ground. Nobody likes the cross, please rid me of this troublesome priest.

3. Bishops (what I imagine you meant by religious leaders) are supposed to be teachers and solid managers. What they end up being is burned out glad-handers. And then, depending upon the denomination's structure, not the most successful ones. If they are elected, it is usually because they are so bland and nonthreatening that the big boys know they will be left alone and the smaller places don't feel overshadowed. Anyone that could actually be a teacher or a solid manager, barring a late life conversion to the seriousness of the position, has been safely screened out.

4. And of course the seminaries have been screening out anyone not "highly agreeable" for a long time. When they started admitting women and then everyone with a pulse to keep the money coming in, any camaraderie akin to being part of a high and noble calling was crushed mercilessly.

The fact that the church still exists is something of a miracle in itself.

Most of these selection mechanisms don't happen at independent churches, which account for roughly 1/3 of the total. Small independent churches strongly select for pastors who can retain an audience and clearly explain a gospel, or else they stop existing.

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"When they started admitting women and then everyone with a pulse to keep the money coming in, any camaraderie akin to being part of a high and noble calling was crushed mercilessly."
Yep, the "camaraderie"...

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Education is a gigantic field, and what makes a good kindergarten teacher is very different from what makes someone a good PhD advisor

Indeed.

If education includes publishing important academic articles is part of it, that is pretty easily identified, and by and large US academia does a good job of that, part of why US academia is tops in the world.

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Talent selection in the Armed Forces is in an interesting category. The only way to achieve the rank of General (in G7 forces, at least),is by entry as a 2nd lieutenant. Due to the (understandable) narrowing of opportunities the higher you go in the armed forces, the best talent frequently leaves around the time they make Colonel. Another interesting one is photographer - changes in tech and media have resulted in 'talent', being less valued and therefore less well compensated, at least for most professional photographers.

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In terms of mismatch, surprised no one has mentioned the most obvious of all: the US military officer corps. Doesn’t matter if you’re in the bottom 5th percentile or the 95th, everyone gets promoted and paid the same for the first ten years of career progression. Harvard grad and university of Phoenix grad...both equal rank, pay, and often responsibility after ten years with the firm

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You might include political clout and cronyism bad at finding talent. Good example are public schools and government agencies.

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I work in journalism and once worked as a management consultant. While I have lots of problems with my industry, I don't think it really belongs in the "bad at finding talent" category. Instead, it has a few things going for it:

1) Performance for writers and reporters is more quantifiable than in a lot of industries. Measures such as (i) traffic and (ii) social media statistics (e.g. number of followers) are flawed in many, many respects, but not so flawed as to be useless, and are often meaningfully correlated with the latent variables that you're trying to size up. All of this is much different than in the pre-Internet days, when if there was a big spike in sales or subscriptions, you might not really know what caused it. Now, we know a lot about who the audience is and what they're reading. It's not everything. But its something.

2) As a hiring manager, you can see people's work product. (Well, at least you can for writers -- its harder for editors.) It's literally a matter of public record. There's some contextualization you have do, e.g. some reporters are notorious for having their copy cleaned up by editors. But least there's a paper trail (pun intended).

3. It's a small-ish industry that relies heavily on word-of-mouth for hiring decisions, and there's a fairly clear hierarchy of firms. For political news, for instance, the top tier is really the Washington Post and New York Times. Over the years, I've encountered *some* false positives, i.e. crappy candidates who worked for the NYT or another high-prestige publication -- but not that many. These orgs really have their choice of candidates and do a reasonably good job of vetting them. False negatives (talented journalists who are undiscovered) can be a bigger problem, especially with blogging in decline.

4. Output is relatively atomized. In most journalistic subfields, writers are expected to byline or co-byline dozens if not hundreds of stories every year. So editors and managers get fairly constant feedback on how reporters are performing (and vice versa). Harder for a few subfields like investigative journalism and long-form feature writing where a reporter might work on just a couple of landmark pieces every year.

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Re: "Good at finding the best talent: 1. Highly paid professional sports (those who care can play them in high school)"

In the category of competitive sports, tournament chess might seem to be a most excellent means for finding and developing mental talent (expertise-capacity/expertise-propensity) except for some key difficulties, the first of which is the lack of money. For a given amount of brain sweat in training for tournaments and playing in them, compared to alternative activities, the monetary compensation is almost nothing. The result is young chess prodigies upon entering college nearly always reallocate their mental efforts toward academics. I suspect the Soviet system of state-sponsored chess tournaments along with their practice of using high chess ratings among the young in considering admissions to higher education had something to do with their comparative advantage in most STEM fields.

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I think the reader correctly identifies the main things that can optimize talent. It strikes me that a good filtering mechanism can, broadly, work in one of two ways:

-Low barrier to entry, but the job itself operates in such a way as to separate the wheat from the chaff early on, in a way that everyone can see. Real estate is probably like this.
-High barrier to entry that is fairly straightforward and easy to understand. Professional sports.

I'd probably disagree with Tyler about management consulting and teaching. I think they're both in the middle. Management consulting is obviously highly lucrative. Locking out non-elites is, however, an extremely blunt filtering mechanism (though probably not the worst, from a purely selfish point of view) and while most people have some idea of what it takes to get into an elite school the process is fairly arbitrary in lots of ways. So the barrier to entry is high and reasonably clear, but the specific process by which it works is somewhat opaque and it's kind of inefficient. Also, I don't get the sense that management consultants are particularly judged by their individual results, it's more about the firm's reputation (if you're at McKinsey, you'll get work, no matter what). There's a pretty steep learning curve and I don't think it's easy to quickly figure out who is good at it.

Teaching is a weird one. Barriers to entry are medium, in terms of level, process and opacity, unless you're talking about higher education. The funny thing about teaching is this: I think it's relatively easy to spot a good teacher, but very hard to measure precisely what it is that a good teacher does. This creates a problem, because want to measure output and no one is sure exactly what a teacher's is or should be. Test scores are a very blunt way to measure this, and I think tend to distort things in other ways, but we haven't come up with a better method (and I'm not sure there is one).

There's also this: the best performers often get promoted to management, but managing is itself a skill and it's usually unrelated to whatever it is that makes you good at the work. This is an issue in all fields; it's main idea behind The Peter Principle.

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Student election process for university seems to me to have a lot of misses but I have no data to support my opinion. Does anyone have data?

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I don't get #2 at all. Almost entirely dependent on university reputation and schmooze skill. How does one from the outside crack this inner circle?

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Wasn't it a big deal in economics this past year that many women are overlooked and/ or underpaid?

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