Who’s Your Posse?

Predicting individual success is an immensely tricky business, because we have such powerful instincts about how best to do it. We intuitively hunt for performance metrics — test scores, sprint times, sales numbers. And, very often, we’re wrong.

The plain fact is, we humans are reliably terrible judges of talent. The majority of our can’t-miss prodigies do, in fact, miss. And the majority of successful people seem, to our eyes, to come out of nowhere.

The reason for this is that talent is not linear; it’s complex. It’s not about a number; it’s about an invisible landscape that emerges from the interaction of person and environment — the squishy yet vastly important combination of passion, grit, opportunity, and character that can’t be summed up in a single measure.

Or can it?

I recently read a story that might give us a new way to peek inside that landscape. It’s about the Posse Foundation, a group that helps students who might not otherwise get into elite colleges — in other words, dynamic kids from tough neighborhoods with low SAT scores who want to attend Middlebury, Stanford, or the like.

It works like this: Posse Scholars attend college in groups of 10 or so — a little team. During their academic careers they  meet weekly, support each other, connect to other scholars who’ve graduated, help each other get past the obstacles of life. Despite their relatively low SAT scores, 90 percent of Posse Scholars graduate, half on the dean’s list. Nearly 80 percent found or led groups and clubs. They’re helping colleges to rethink the outdated conventions of admission, and the rest of us rethink the way we think about finding talent.

When you start to look, these kinds of posses are everywhere. What are talent hotbeds, but organically grown posses? What are great schools, but institutionalized posses? What are great sports teams or musical groups, or businesses, but posses? And like any posse, they add a crucial mix of ingredients to the talent landscape: models, support, identity, constantly renewed ignition. They perform the most crucial function in the talent process: they fill our windshield with versions of our future self.

So when it comes to identifying talent, the question is not, What’s your score?

Maybe the real question is, Who’s your posse?