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A Not-So-Happy Medium

Publishing Date : 13 March, 2018

Stuart White
The World in Black-N-White


My daughter was super excited about a meeting she had arranged with a highly recommended clairvoyant who she was seeing to investigate her future.



Unfortunately, the appointment did not materialise as the psychic was involved in a car accident and the meeting had to be cancelled, but I couldn’t help chuckle as the cynic is me mused how she failed to see that coming. “Really?”, I said, “I would not be parting with my hard-earned money for someone to stare into their crystal ball to foretell my future when they can’t even predict their own”. My daughter, who is really drawn to everything alternative, defended her, telling me that they can’t see their own future and how this is linked with reading other people’s energies and not their own.


 Apparently reading energies allows you to look beyond what people are saying and understand who they really are at their essence. While people can control what they say fairly easily, their energetic vibration cannot be faked because it is largely controlled by the subconscious mind meaning that it is a direct reflection of their personal emotional energy. If you can read this correctly, you can get a very accurate read on someone.


Trying to get this accurate read on people is something that I spend a lot of my time doing with my clients as we will mull over the results of psychometric tests to decipher exactly what the results mean and answer the million-dollar questions – ‘what can we expect in the future from this employee?’ and ‘are they likely to be a good fit with a job?’   What often frustrates my clients is the lack of a definitive answer to the question. We would never, for example, predict a 100% job match because there are so many variables which affect human behaviour.


Every predictive instrument will produce a certain number of false negatives and false positives.  Even in an instrument with a very high predictive accuracy - say 80%, which is extremely high - 20% of judgments will be wrong, which could have catastrophic consequences for people.  There is both a conceptual and empirical literature on this issue from diverse fields.


Further, most predictive instruments produce a result which is a probability - which means a judgment has to be made about where the line will be set to apply consequences from the prediction - the higher the line, the more people will be missed - i.e. those with scores just below the cut off - and vice versa.


Sometimes the data we get looks to be in conflict. Like when Potential Ability (which we measure by cognitive ability – think how smart you are) and Observed Capability (think what you can do) are not aligned.  When this happens, my clients are often quick to shout error or how can this be. For example, you have a person who is the most senior person in the organisation, but they score in the bottom 25% on cognitive ability. Clients will argue “it’s not possible” and “the test is wrong”. The argument normally goes how could they have risen to the level they are at with a low cognitive ability?


I heard a good metaphor to explain this – “Let’s say I want to be a runner and I have the right length of legs and body fat to be a sprinter (high potential ability) but because I have never run a day in my life when I get on to the track I produce very little. You see I cannot sprint yet, because the practice to realise my potential or capability is lacking.


On the other hand, a colleague who has limbs of a different length – maybe shorter legs and a higher body fat count (lower potential ability), can out-sprint me because they have been running every day and have been coached by Usain Bolt so their competence is higher. So even though I show more ability potential, without effort and exposure in the right mix it won’t translate to strong competence.  It’s like that old joke about the tourist who goes to New York and asks a cab driver how to get to Carnegie hall and the cab driver tells her, “Lady, you gotta practice’!


The fact is there is no exact prototype for what management and or leadership is - it’s apples and oranges; and what frustrates managers is that personality, interests, values and competence are moving parts, malleable in nature and constantly evolving.  I fully understand the need to know what they are dealing with in prospective employees because the right people in the wrong jobs or the wrong people in the right jobs are both a problem since they rob the organization of its much-needed performance and productivity at all levels.


Bits & pieces or a limited view does not help in understanding the person whether you wish to recruit, retain, train, develop or promote. Complete knowledge of analysis and interpretation is a pre-requisite to make vital decisions about people but even when unleashing the full power of Psychometric testing, don’t expect a perfect score.


 What further complicates the picture is that myopic psychological view that when it comes to human beings, the best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour. Finished! Kaput! And End of story!  This is a thinking error! Although some studies which have shown that such things as frequency of exercise during a given time period is a pretty good indicator of exercise habits in the near future (same applies to cigarette smoking and drug abuse) it does not guarantee continued behaviour because over long periods this can change.


A smoker or heavy drinker might successfully quit the habit.   A chronic thief might land a decent job, start a family and settle down.  We do know that situation influences behaviour and sometimes it is more determinative than character traits. In other words, “She does A when X, but B when Y - so a person might take drugs when she is with other drug users but may stop when she moves away, starts a family or gets a fulfilling job.


We are not fortune tellers as psychologists and if you asked me can I predict behaviour I would answer with the following provisos; potentially – yes and  practically - no, regardless of whether I am a clairvoyant or a psychiatrist.  I can tell you potentially how someone will behave but can I guarantee it? No - that’s in the lap of the gods and that’s another discussion completely.


So, if, like my daughter, you put faith in psychic powers to predict the pathway of your life through an ability to read your energies, just bear in mind that they are readers of senses and signals, not of minds, nor of future events.  They will read you, or at least that part of you which you allow to be revealed, but whether your future will be a complete car crash might be a vision too far!

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