Call for Emergent Ventures proposals on talent search and major life changes

Here is my earlier description of Emergent Ventures.  In addition to the general request for proposals, we are looking to fund research in two particular directions, so if you are interested I would encourage you to apply here.  Here goes:

1. What do we know about the best ways to search for additional talent?  What features characterize successful talent searches?

2. How do people make “big” decisions?  This could include the decision to migrate from one country to another, the decision to change religions, the decision to start a new business, to marry, and so on.  Are there general principles here?  What is known or believed, either theoretically or empirically?

We are open as to what form a contribution might take, but as a default I am envisioning a paper (on either) of say 60-80 pp., surveying and conceptually summarizing academic literature, but written for very smart non-academics and with a somewhat practical bent.

I encourage you to apply, both on these topics and more generally.


1. - patents, offer patent rights for any invention the talent invents

2. People make 'big' decisions as forced moves in chess. All my big decisions were that way. As that Obama aide from Chicago said, 'Emanuael" something and sometimes mayor of Chicago, "Never let a crisis go to waste".

Damnit Ray, If you don't tell us why nickels are bigger than dimes, I'm gonna get an 8 ball and blow my brains out. Seriously, WTF is going on.

Props to Ray for reiterating the 19th century.

I would say the biggest 21st century innovation on #1 has been gamification, everything from MOOC stars getting scholarships or jobs, to GitHub displacing the role of the (19th century) resume.

I think the answer to #2 has to be "anything and everything all the time." We are billions of people with high individual variability.

@anonymous - gawd you're dull. You'd make a good DC consultant, saying bland feel-good buzzwords to offend nobody and get paid.

Bonus trivia: the 21st century *is* the 19th century, as our host has reminded us. I'm reading right now V. Smil's book "Creating the 20th C: Technical Innovations of 1867-1914 and Their Lasting Impact". Smil (and TC) is right.

Bonus trivia: I doubt anybody in Emergent Ventures has a patent worthy idea, because I doubt anybody from that program will add any value to society, sorry. By contrast the founders of Google did patent their innovation while students at Stanford, and later Stanford tried to (and did) claw-back some of the money made in founding Google under patent 'shop-rights' doctrine. But the bulk of the money stayed with the Google founders, who are now multi-billionaires. One word: patents. Even the bad system we have today is better than no patents.

I love you, Ray. I just think you can be teased about patent devices as a discriminator in this day and age.

Perhaps especially as 21st century systems emphasize ever more sharing. Economists on GitHub with their models, their code, their data.

Not that I think Emergent Ventures has to do anything in this area, it's more an observation of recent changes than a prediction or ..

@anonymous - (not sure this is working right I'm on a 'dial up modem' connection in the remote Philippines- "Perhaps especially as 21st century systems emphasize ever more sharing. Economists on GitHub with their models, their code, their data."- well, that is the modern trend, I agree, and I even have some public source code on CodePlex. Dr. Ben Goldacre would agree crowd sourcing makes for more robust science. I've proposed that the US patent office follow the European patent office and use teams to examine their patent applications (a mild form of crowd sourcing); by default the US PTO already has a sort of 'open source' publication model for public comment that nobody really uses (you make your competitors patent application stronger if you comment on its defects, since they can be corrected, but I digress).

#2 "...Are there general principles here?"

I have found the old line people only change when the cost of changing is less than the cost of staying the same to largely hold water in people making big life decisions. The decision to pack your belongings in a plastic bag and leave for Colombia on foot from Venezuela or convert to Islam on the spot to avoid beheading for instance. But hey that's just me...

there are many dangers even if Bolsonaro loses to Lula's hand-picked candidate: powerful sectors of Brazil have devoted themselves to destroying PT over last 4 years: Dilma impeached, Lula imprisoned, etc. Hard to imagine them passively accepting PT's return to power.

Sixty to eighty pages for a proposal ? Sounds like how an academic sees the world.

When all you have is words... volume is critical.

No need for me to go on.

The proposal is not 60-80 pages, the research paper is

If you comments are any indication, I can see why reading might be a difficult activity for you.

Tyler, hopefully you'll post some of the more interesting proposals.

1. I would say put them through a brutal high stakes competition depending on what you are looking for. Only people with both passion and skill will end up on top. Investment banking/consulting associates, tennis stars, superforecasters... You'll miss out on people who already made a name for themselves because they won't play (their time is too valuable) but then those guys are on EconTalk or Conversations with Tyler anyway.
2. People don't do as much pondering as they should, big decisions are driven by emotions, grass is greener on the other side style. They are driven much more by lack of satisfaction the status quo than by the lure of the adventure.

Is it just me, or does it seem that there is increasing focus on "searching" for talent rather than "training"?


That's a really tricky distinction

Especially when you're searching across populations that have had varying levels of training.

With the plan to find additional inputs for more training

Speaking again of the recent past, I believe the story arc at Coursera was that they moved from kind of an education focus to more specifically training and selection.

"When you can bring huge numbers of students together with lots of well-branded universities and global enterprises seeking a highly skilled workforce, could those linkages be strong enough to forge a new future for massive open online courses?"

No idea how or if an Emergent Venture should seek to change or leverage that.

A line from that:

"Then we just launched a skills benchmarking service for companies, which I think is going to be a real game changer."

How/When are Emergent Ventures proposals going to be decided? I submitted one, and am eager to know of a response. Will I get an email either way? Or only if my proposal is granted? Are you reading them as they come in or will they be evaluated all at once later?

Well, you could just read the linked information - 'If you wish, you also can think of Emergent Ventures as a bet on my own personal judgment. For some time to come, I will be devoting significant time to Emergent Ventures every single day (with a few exceptions, mostly travel-related). Most applications will be processed promptly.'

'Promptly' is probably one of those trademark Straussian terms, however. As is 'most.'

I have read that. It barely sort of answers part of one of my questions.

You get an email one way or the other. We expect to evaluate most proposals in less than a month, often much less.

And assuming that 'Tyler Cowen' (before the site redesign, the web site owner comments could not be faked as they were indicated with a color bar) is correct, you can see that in Straussian terms, 'promptly' means weeks, not days, and 'most' remains wonderfully flexible.

'but as a default I am envisioning a paper (on either) of say 60-80 pp., surveying and conceptually summarizing academic literature, but written for very smart non-academics and with a somewhat practical bent'

Having a problem finding good talent among the GMU law and econ crowd of students? Which is amusingly ironic considering that graduate students are basically chosen by the GMU law and econ faculty.

This is my favorite initiative from this blog yet

With regards to 2, most of my big decisions have been because of women.

An underappreciated motivation, imo.

I'll drink to that. Women are at the forefront of a movement that combines leadership, strategy, business acumen and compassion. A unique combination that's destined to change the world.

Tyler, thank you for posting these questions. The discussion here is good, and I wish that more people would engage. I am probably not a good fit for researching either of these, but I will pass along to business and public policy friends who may be a better fit. Still, I plan on applying shortly with a different proposal. To answer your questions:

1. What do we know about the best ways to search for additional talent? What features characterize successful talent searches?

I know very little about the best way to search for talent. My classmates who were chosen by the most sought after firms are all capable, but few strike me as exceptional. This may be more of a problem with business schools than with the companies, but then why do they recruit so heavily from business schools? My approach was to look for oddballs, polymaths and compliments to my skills. For example, I took engineering and stats classes while doing the bare minimum for business and public policy. This A) put me in touch with technically strong yet socially stubborn people (engineers and statisticians tend to be so truth seeking they risk to their own social status) and B) the people who overlapped with me were usually not the pure math savants, but those with a mixed liberal arts background. It is, in fact, how I found my cofounder, a man with a talent for languages, literature and computer security.

As for characteristics of successful searches, I would steal a page from Peter Thiel and say that all unhappy searches are all alike; every happy search is happy in its own way. Finding talent is a willingness to see and nurture what others do not. Non commodified talent tends to pull the ladder up behind itself, like a monopoly, the moats get wider for the next generation. Nassim Taleb and Ben Canoscha talk about this here:

2. How do people make “big” decisions? This could include the decision to migrate from one country to another, the decision to change religions, the decision to start a new business, to marry, and so on. Are there general principles here? What is known or believed, either theoretically or empirically?

I don't have the faintest idea of a general rule here but will offer my own experience. The two biggest factors in moving, starting a business, falling in love and other life changes are pretty constant for me. The first is the means. I was fortunate enough to be able to afford graduate school, move cities, start a business and to take people on dates. This is often overlooked in my opinion. The only part of the question it does not address is the spiritual. The second, is conscientiousness; A feeling that there was a wrong in the world that needed righting. I am continually realizing how much the Great Recession shaped me. It is probably for that reason that I went to business and public policy schools. The need to try to correct the issues in cybersecurity is a huge driving force for my business. The old audit and consulting firms are the wrong model and make too much money treating the symptoms to change. Aligning business interests with the IT security functions and pricing risk is simply the only way, and most firms are not positioned to do that. The methodical and deliberate righting of wrongs also played a large part in my romantic decisions. Finding an amazing person who the world has not fully recognized, or under-recognized is a wonderful feeling. I guess you could boil my big decisions down to whether I'm able to absorb the downside risk and whether I'm morally outraged enough to do something about it.

I think I'll go meta again.

You'd think that people who have rise all the way to the PhD level of the economics profession.... and have even gained a tenured high-paying position as a professor in the Economics profession -- the very Elite Of The Elite... were being rewarded for already having "changed the world" in some Completely Awesome Way.

But no. Such people have done no such thing. Instead, they are bragging about how they have pooled money -- for THEM to dole out of course -- to others that they have judged worthy of changing the world in some Completely Awesome Way.

OK class, I ask you: What does this tell you about the Econ profession?

I'd still rather be a pointy-headed academic than a loser like you.

Tyler, you should probably talk to Austen Allred of, either about this or as a potential guest for the podcast on the future of education. They're taking more or less anybody who completes their week long free online course and training them in web development or data science over the course of six months of online classes. Not massive, not open, just online, low dropout rates, apparently. It's financed by income share agreements, so the students pay nothing upfront. A number of people have quadrupled their earnings between before and after the course.

He's @AustenAllred

On talent search, avoid the MacArthur Foundations Fellowship model, which is to give at least half, if not more, or your awards to people with tenure at good schools. It's not that there's no talent there, there may be, but those people have secure jobs. They can function. Look elsewhere.

1. Well Pioneer (Tyler is already an advisor) is a good start, a FaceMash-esque voting system on project ideas and real-world progress. But the answer has to involve the internet of course. I saw someone mention MOOC's before, but there's a famous story about one of the first MOOC's where before almost nobody got >95% or so in the class and the first year of the online class something in thounsands got a perfect score or something.

2. I make "big" life decisions via negativa, in the style of Nassim Taleb. Basically I think about it a lot and try to convince myself that it is a bad idea or there are better ideas, but if I can't convince myself of this fact then I go ahead and do it

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