Bock is an amateur psychometrician. He maintains that "GPA's are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless." Rather, they are looking for "general cognitive ability, and it's not IQ. It's learning ability."
Bock is similarly unimpressed by "expertise." According to Bock, someone with high cognitive ability will come up with the same answer as the person with expertise anyway.
They also value "emergent leadership," which means what it sounds like, and "humility and ownership," which sounds like being a responsible employee; shouldering blame when blame is yours, and trying to learn from your failures.
Everything Bock says is probably not true, and if it were true, it would not work well in organizations other than Google.
- Decades of research shows that job performance in many careers is pretty well predicted by standard IQ tests.
- "Learning to learn" is nebulous because it's domain-specific, and it's domain-specific because the ability to learn new things depends on what you already know.
- "Emergent leadership" and "humility and ownership" are qualities many organizations prize and would dearly love to reliably predict at hiring time. Maybe Bock has something to teach them about this. I kinda doubt it, but you never know.
- The idea that smart people can pretty well figure anything out without expertise? Even though IQ predicts job performance (not "learning to learn") experience still matters to performance.
Friedman adds the critical caveat in the last paragraph:
Google attracts so much talent it can afford to look beyond traditional metrics, like G.P.A.
Yes. It reminds me of a conversation I had with a Harvard admissions office who told me "Look, we could fill the freshman class with students who got 800,800 on the SAT. Literally. Every single freshman, 800,800. We're just not interested in doing that."
That doesn't mean that the SAT was irrelevant; you didn't meet many Harvard students with crummy SAT scores. It means that once you're in the 750 range, Harvard figured you're damn smart and whatever "edge" might be represented in the difference between 750 and 800 didn't matter much. They started to look at other qualities. Harvard admissions officers (at least as represented by my friend) were also quite serious in how they tried to do it, and quite humble about their ability to assess them.
Likewise, Google is, I'm willing to guess, selecting from tremendously capable people--capable as defined in standard ways--so it makes perfect sense that further selection is based on other qualities. It doesn't mean that standard metrics are rendered irrelevant.
Friedman is right when (in the last paragraph) he offers this advice: For most young people, though, going to college and doing well is still the best way to master the tools needed for many careers. I would add that I would expect Google's offbeat hiring practices wouldn't work in most places.