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Bright young old things!

“To be a genius, think like a 94-year-old.”

If you’ve ever worried about your declining IQ, take heart from this fascinating profile of 94 year old John Goodenough who, together with his team at University of Texas, has filed a patent application on a cheap, lightweight and safe battery to revolutionise cars.

How does a man born in the 1920s outsmart the millennials?

The masterful application of knowledge and problem solving is behind Goodenough’s patent. And there’s a name for it – it’s called Crystallized Intelligence. The good news: as we age Crystallized Intelligence continues to increase (whilst our IQ shows a gradual decline). Crystallized Intelligence is accumulated information and vocabulary acquired from school and everyday life. It encompasses the application of skills and knowledge to solving problems.

Fluid Intelligence (also called native mental ability) is the information processing system. It refers to the ability to think and reason. It includes the speed with which information can be analysed, and also includes attention and memory capacity.

Neuroscientists at MIT and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) suggest that the details on our mental acuity are far more complex than previously thought. The researchers gathered data from nearly 50,000 subjects and found a very clear picture showing that each cognitive skill they were testing peaked at a different age.

There’s little doubt that aptitude testing is prized in profiling new hires. What is less clear is the weighting we should apply to Crystallised and Fluid Intelligence for various roles, different industry sectors and on a hierarchy of leadership.

What’s becoming evident:

  • IQ peaks between 25 and 29 years old, then drifts down through the working years, with decline becoming more steep after age 70.
  • If you’re Under 25 – you should be feted for your raw speed in processing information, logic, numeric and verbal reasoning.
  • Until around age of 25, short-term memory continues to improve, when it levels off and then begins to drop around age 35.
  • Different components of fluid intelligence peak at different ages, some as late as age 40.
  • For the ability to evaluate other people’s emotional states, the peak occurred much later, in the 40s or 50s.
  • While data from the Weschler IQ tests suggested that vocabulary peaks in the late 40s, the new data showed a later peak, in the late 60s or early 70s.

Professor John Goodenough refers to himself as a ‘turtle’ who has kept on walking and meandering through life looking and picking up clues along the way. There was no ‘Big Bang’ moment for him, even though at 30 he was probably an intellectual giant. Rather, the collected wisdom and observations over his turtle life have led to that new battery patent.

“Last but not least, he credited old age with bringing him a new kind of intellectual freedom. At 94, he said, ‘You no longer worry about keeping your job.'”

Where do you think Crystallised Intelligence fits into your world @work?

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How to learn Italian… without going to school

It’s needless to say that childhood experiences shape a significant part of our adult persona, but they also help to build some of the skills and attributes that we carry with us during our working life.

While in pre-elementary (equivalent to kindergarten in Australia) and then elementary school (primary school), I, like many of my peers, revered television for its ability to entertain, educate and simply provide an escape from everyday reality. However, in Albania where I grew up, the State-run channel was pretty dry on children’s programming, with limited variety, laughably amateurish sets and substandard directing, which had little appeal to my youthful imagination. Like many others at the time, I turned to Italian TV for entertainment because it featured many cartoons for children.

The geographical proximity of the two countries (Albania is only 40 miles across the Adriatic Sea from Italy) allowed us to receive Italian broadcasts with a simple medium-wave receiver. From age five onwards I was watching cartoons on Italian TV. I would wake up at 6am along with my brother to watch Anna Dai Capelli Rossi, Heidi, Power Rangers and Sailor Moon, which were all featured in Italian. Enraptured by the stories and delighted by the colourful images, I naturally started to interpret what was being said and my understanding of Italian improved day by day. As I grew a bit older, I progressed to watching a TV series called Amico Mio and even developed a crush on the actor who was about my age! At ten I was able to fully converse in Italian, and have been fluent in the language since then.

I went on to improve my language skills, taking Italian courses in university, where I learned to read and write besides speaking. It’s a skill that came in handy: my first job at 16 was working in an Italian bakery in Toronto. I took a Modern Italian Culture course at university in Canada and shared a house with five Italian girls for a few months in regional Victoria, when I moved to Australia. Funnily enough, I have only once set foot on Italian soil (while visiting a friend in Rome, and just for two days), nevertheless those language skills I acquired from Italian television were my trampoline to the wider world.

Tons of research demonstrates that our behaviour as adults stems from what we have experienced during our childhood. If you are afraid of dogs, it’s probably something you can trace back to your younger days. If you speak Italian in a Micky Mouse voice, you probably grew up somewhere along the Mediterranean.

What about you? Is there anything you have learned in an unconventional way?

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Hiring the whole person (not those gingerbread men or women)

“I recommend that you hire someone with a less-conventional story if you want the people on your team to innovate and collaborate in the way this new-millennium workplace requires.”

– Liz Ryan, Forbes.

Next time you’re hiring, challenge your thinking about who would be ‘right’ for the job by asking yourself a few simple questions:

  • Does the candidate really need a defined career history or specific qualifications?
  • Are their skills and capabilities more important than their attitudes and values?
  • Do they have valuable experience outside of work, such as involvement with community, sport, arts, family etc, which they could bring to role?

When looking for the ‘right’ candidate, hiring managers often take the cookie-cutter approach: they select an obvious match to the skills, experience and career path of the incumbent or job description. Liz Ryan, a former HR Senior Vice President in a Fortune 500 company, has written in Forbes about why this is a bad idea. “Cookie-cutter candidates who have the exact experience detailed in the job ad and who have perfectly linear, manicured and stepwise career paths are seldom the best hires, in my experience,” she says.

Working on a recent assignment got me thinking along the same lines: We need to look at the whole person, not a tick sheet of have they finished this, completed that, and moved from one role up the ladder to the next.

The role I was recruiting was for quite a traditional market, so I was pleasantly surprised when the employer hired the candidate who had a more varied background than other candidates. When providing feedback, the employer explained that their chosen candidate demonstrated entrepreneurial spirit and a growth mindset, which they valued highly in comparison with other candidates (who were all equally capable of doing the job).

Ryan’s advice rings true in this case, where more rounded life experience has paid dividends. Top candidates are also looking for employers who have an open-minded approach. Over the years in business I have observed successful leaders often held a variety of roles across different sectors. This has enabled them to take the best from each experience and contribute to their evolution as visionaries. LinkedIn has compiled some inspiring lists of its Top Voices, which include diverse examples of influencers, entrepreneurs, management and organisational culture experts, as well as those organisations who rank as Top Attractors for talented individuals.

Encouraging diversity within your team will help shake-up your current thinking, bring new dynamics, and offers a variety of perspectives – or as Ryan says, “When in doubt, hire the quirky candidate.”

Have you ditched the cookie-cutter? What are some of the innovative qualities you look for in candidates for when hiring?

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Posted in Slade Executive, The world @work

Why corporates should take leadership on social issues

One of the top international accounting firms hosts a networking event to facilitate a graduate mentoring program that supports aspiring LGBTI business professionals. The world’s strongest global law firm brand facilitates a panel discussion on how to progress marriage equality in Australia. A big four bank runs a major advertising campaign to address the gender salary gap and advocates equal pay for women. A major telco (along with another two major banks) introduces a hijab in company colours as part of their corporate uniform.

Why should the likes of EY, Baker & McKenzie, ANZ and Optus care about social issues? Plenty has been written about why a social conscience makes good business sense. You only have to look at the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) or Diversity and Inclusion policies of any these leading organisations to see they’ve taken a strong proactive stance. EY, for example, says, “Our focus on diversity and inclusiveness is integral to how we serve our clients, develop our people and play a leadership role in our communities. When we act on our commitment to diversity and inclusiveness, we maximise the power of our differences to achieve better business results, for ourselves and for our clients.”

It’s not just clever marketing. While there’s some risk for brands associating with politically sensitive subjects, the risk is far greater for organisations who shy away from taking the initiative on important issues. It is proven that organisations who show leadership on social issues:

  • Improve their public perception and increase their public profile
  • Attract, engage and retain the best employees
  • Appeal to a wider customer base and enjoy better relationships with customers

Professionals in private employment make up a significant proportion of the workforce. Our products and services have the potential to reach customers across the entire population. While arguably our views are represented at various levels of government by those representatives we’ve elected, I firmly believe there is an onus in the corporate sector to lead conversations that will shape the kind of world we’d like to work in, and live in.

What evidence have you seen of the commercial and social benefits of your organisation’s approach to corporate social responsibility? How has your organisation demonstrated leadership on a social issue or positively represented your Point of View?

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Posted in The world @work

C’mon folks

When a Southern Belle interviewed for a Financial Planner’s role in Dallas, Texas, and addressed the interview panel with ‘Y’awl’, no one raised an eyebrow. But when one of our candidates in Sydney was on final interview with a new employer, and dropped the ‘Y bomb’ (Youse), she was shown the door within 10 minutes. We were forced to find a palatable excuse for why she wasn’t successful, when we knew that she was simply ‘not one of their tribe’.

Consequently it was with great interest that we were interviewed by Fiona Smith for an article in The Guardian about Blind Recruitment: Blind recruitment aims to stamp out bias, but can it prevent discrimination? This is a growing trend amongst sophisticated employers who want to bring in capable people based on merit – not by where they went to school, which university they attended, or by gender or whether their name is pronounceable by mono-linguists.

We wave the flag for anti-discrimination every day of the year. When we did pure phone screening interviews for one role, we were delighted to hear that the candidate who was successful was in a wheelchair – we had no idea and it made not an iota of difference to his ability to perform in the role. We were aghast when one of our own beautifully spoken consultants, an Indian by birth, was told by a client ‘don’t send me any Indians’. We continue to push back when briefed by certain employers (particularly for entry level to mid-career roles) that a particular birthright will mean a good culture fit.

On the other hand, we are completely onside with employers who want good written and spoken English as part of the selection criteria. So much in life comes down to good communications, but we don’t buy into accent free or the ‘tribal’ norms as our Financial Planner experienced. Instead, when faced with real or perceived discrimination, we encourage the delicate conversations: For example, someone could have generously told that high performing candidate ‘Our business has a slightly different client base than your previous company. Would you mind not saying ‘Youse’, as we don’t want our clients making the wrong assumptions about you, when we know you’re very good at your job?’

Too easy.

What’s your experience of ‘blind recruitment’ in your world @work?

Featured image: See Beyond Race was a VicHealth community-based social marketing campaign that tackled race-based discrimination by featuring local people from diverse cultural backgrounds and their real-life interests.

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Breaking good with RJ Mitte, Alan Joyce and Andrew Parker

RJ Mitte and I have a few things in common, but I think he’d say we’re both genetically blessed. While I’m certainly not bold enough to compare looks with someone who has modelled for Vivienne Westwood, like many otherwise ordinary people, we both fit into groups characterised by our diversity. The most obvious one is like RJ, I haven’t seen many episodes of Breaking Bad, the drama series he’s best known for as an actor.

When RJ Mitte shared his experience of Overcoming Adversity for the Wheeler Centre for Books, Writing and Ideas in Melbourne late last year, he credited living with cerebral palsy as a catalyst for his successful career. Speaking confidently about yourself in front of an unknown audience, unscripted, for close to an hour is an achievement for anyone. For someone with mobility and language difficulties, it’s a major accomplishment.

Growing up, RJ had to learn to walk, endure years of physiotherapy, deal with bullying and discrimination, and fight to live independently. He channeled the energy required to do the things most of us take for granted, to do more. While a successful acting career is a pipe dream for many able bodied people, being pigeonholed amongst a minority group of disabled actors only made him more determined. RJ says, “A disability is knowledge and power. It’s an opportunity to see things through a different light.”

Now a powerful voice for equality and diversity in the workplace and broader community, RJ seeks to empower others through his involvement as a union advocate for actors with disabilities in Hollywood and as a celebrity ambassador for United Cerebral Palsy. RJ is also is passionate about raising awareness about bullying and victimisation in schools, a subject close to heart. “You never get out of high school,” he says, “people are always trying to push you in another direction.”

Locally it’s encouraging to see high profile organisations showing leadership on diversity and inclusion. Speaking at a CEO breakfast on marriage equality last year, QANTAS CEO Alan Joyce summed up The Spirit of Australia: “We see ourselves as representing the Australian community. We have over 250 different nationalities working for us, 50 languages spoken. We’ve got a huge, diverse workplace of 28,000 people and we have a huge gay community in our workforce. We want all of our people who come to work every day to feel equal, to feel like they can contribute equally in the organisation and in the country.”

In an article by Human Capital, MI5 head Andrew Parker recently agreed: “Diversity is vital… not just because it’s right that we represent the communities we serve, but because we rely on the skills of the most talented people whoever they are, and wherever they may be.” In the 2015 Australian Workplace Equality Index (AWEI), published by Pride in Diversity, sponsor Goldman Sachs states: “Our greatest asset is what makes us different.” For those of us involved in making hiring decisions that will affect future wins for our businesses or recruiting for others, it should be a core value to strive for.

If you’re wondering what you can do to make your workplace a better place, here are 5 tips based on RJ Mitte’s talk that you can apply within a professional context.

 

  • Language matters – think about the words you use to describe people, especially those that you may perceive as different, and consider how you would like to be referred to by others

 

 

  • Listen to and share the experiences of others – sharing stories with colleagues, rather talking about them, helps break down communication barriers

 

 

  • Promote networking opportunities that support diversity – RJ laments few disabled actors have the opportunity to play disabled characters, but workplaces (particularly large organisations) have scope to support employee diversity though professional networks

 

 

  • People from diverse groups make up a significant part of the workforce – We did a team building exercise on diversity in our office and there wasn’t one person who didn’t identify with at least one diversity demographic

 

 

  • Challenge your perception – Instead of approaching diversity as something other, take the initiative to get involved and be inclusive by showing leadership

 

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