Some True loves … Can-Dos & Will-Dos

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Evidence-Based Lessons

It’s true, I have had crushes on some of the shiniest assessments out there (http://www.iamamisfit.com/columns/evidence-based-lessons/shiny-loves) and realized it is not me, its them. Along the way, I have been fortunate enough to also find some true, lasting loves. They Can-do and they Will-do. They are not flaky. They are not skin deep. They are the real deal.




I will be the first to tell you that working memory (WM) does not sound very sexy. Some call it executive attention or executive function, but that sounds more like a job role. So to avoid the jingle-jangle fallacy, I am going to stick with the original term: working memory.


When I was first introduced, I dissed WM. No, not interested at all. That was for basic cognitive psychologists who stayed in their lab all day with undergraduate students memorizing lists of words and playing color-word association games. Silly.


Professor Ana Franco-Watkins set me, and a lot of other organizational psychologists, strait. We all love winners and she showed me that WM is a winner.


In the organizational psychology world, cognitive ability (aka IQ or ‘g’) is the predictive champ – it is an indisputable fact that ‘g’ is the best predictor of performance. Universities, Fortune 500s, non-profits, and even professional football (NFL) have known this fact for decades. Let the record show, cognitive ability does not sound very appealing to me either, but unlike my shiny loves, the science behind ‘g’ is sort of compelling.



Ana claims organizational psychology has it wrong. She stopped my dear friend and colleague, Professor Bryan Edwards, mid-sentence as he was describing the excellent predictive power of cognitive ability. “Bryan - the best predictor of performance is not cognitive ability. It is working memory”.


Fight, fight, fight, fight, fight …!


On one side, the contending team of Dr. Franco-Watkins and working memory. On the other side, the champs, ‘g’ and Dr. Edwards. Some excellent research was conducted by both teams.


Headline: In a split decision, Working Memory defeats ‘g’.


Research has demonstrated that working memory is at least equal to and often times a better predictor that ‘g’ (http://www.siop.org/tip/july17/bridge.aspx). ‘g’ sometimes comes with a bag of dirty laundry when used in employee contexts (adverse impact). Yet, WM appears to be able to minimize such effects. WM is theoretically derived and practically useful. It explains and captures learning, integrates prior knowledge from long-term memory with new knowledge, and is critical for successful multi-tasking. ‘g’ is a statistical finding…one that we have been trying to use to explain human learning and performance. WM is the best thing going for predicting performance. WM allow us to know what a person Can-Do at a maximal level.



Disclaimer: I am currently part of a research team (including Professor Franco-Watkins and Professor Edwards) diving deeper into working memory. How can it best predict employee success, leadership potential, and even the performance of professional athletes (MLB, MLS, and Football players)? We are also beginning to see that WM can be improved/strengthened. It is similar to computer cache – cache does the real work and can be modified. The author team will be sharing that in academic journals and on www.iamamisfit.com. WM is a Misfit and ‘g’ has been trying to Fit for centuries.


‘g’, it really is you. Take a seat on the bench. I am starting WM – it’s simply a better performer (and I love solid performers).




Remember how I dumped Conscientiousness for Grit? Again, I am sorry C. I am humbled to see you are opening the door to at least hear me out.


To backfill my fumbled love story with C, we were first introduced when C was shown to predict performance across all jobs and industries (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1744-6570.1991.tb00688.x/abstract). Conscientiousness does not sound too sexy either, but C works – time and time again. Conscientiousness is part of the Big-5 personality domain along with openness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Personality speaks to what a person Will-Do when placed in a given situation – it speaks to our preferences, needs, and values.


For decades, the Big-5 was the predominant, scientifically valid and practically useful (yea, that’s kind of important if you haven’t picked it up yet) personality theory. I have published on the Big-5 in our best journals and unlocked some of its key inner workings, with particular emphasis on conscientiousness (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1744-6570.2006.00046.x/abstract) . I have a deep love for the Big-5 and its most tried and true component: conscientiousness.


C is not flaky and C is way more than skin deep.


A few years ago, I had the pleasure to attend Wharton’s Advanced Management Program (AMP 68; https://executiveeducation.wharton.upenn.edu/for-individuals/all-programs/advanced-management-program). 2/3 of my cohort were from overseas. I quickly learned I was highly US Centric. I was Ptolemy and my good friend Krish was Copernicus. I left Wharton with a deep thirst to understand business from an international scale and I am pleased to say my global centrism is growing. In the years following, I have learned the Big-5 is also in the Ptolemy club (we’re getting t-shirts made).


Quite by chance, I stumbled onto a new model of personality - The HEXACO model. Here we go again – some shiny new object. Nope. It is not shiny and it is not flaky. Most people think the HEXACO is the Big-5 + 1 … Just add Honesty-Humility (aka, the H-factor) to the mix. Not so fast. The HEXACO (http://hexaco.org) is a valid personality model for Earth and has significant and meaningful differences vs the Big-5 the world over.


The HEXACO has been shown to work in over 26 different cultures and languages. The Big-5 has not. The Big-5 is part of the Ptolemy club too it seems – it’s primary fault: it’s English-Centric. It does not work across the globe. HEXACO does.I could get into the lexical studies on both sides of the Big-5/HEXACO debate, but instead please allow me to direct you to some excellent research: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18665898.


The HEXACO has 6 primary dimensions with 24 underlying dimensions. Is it robust, reliable, and valid? Check, check, check.


 HEXACO: you may not be overly sexy, but you perform nicely. I love stable performers. With much love, thank you.



It not you, It’s not me. It’s them…


My true loves in organizational psychology may not be overly sexy. I am still learning that Misfits are not shiny or sexy, but they do deliver. I’m thinking Working Memory and HEXACO are Misifts. They don’t seem to fit within the prevailing school of thought by many in organizational psychology. But damn, they work time and time again, they consistently beat what I thought to be the status quo, and they are bone-marrow deep.



We need to be using variables and methods that we know work. Working memory and HEXACO are two prime examples, but turf wars sometimes damper true loves. You don’t have to take just my word for it. Do some of your own research. As I said in Shiny Loves, we need to make sure we have great reliability and excellent validity (something my true loves here have). Science was used to develop these new and truly unique insights, even if they are seen as Misfits …for the time being.