The human skills

Larry Page and Sergey Brin were PhD students in a computer science program at Stanford when they met and began work on their search engine that would soon become Google. So it’s not surprising that as their company grew exponentially, they used hiring algorithms to sort for computer science students who’d earned top grades at the most selective universities.

But as this Washington Post piece explains, Google eventually learned that they were focusing on the wrong characteristics:

“In 2013, Google decided to test its hiring hypothesis by crunching every bit and byte of hiring, firing, and promotion data accumulated since the company’s incorporation in 1998. Project Oxygen shocked everyone by concluding that, among the eight most important qualities of Google’s top employees, STEM expertise comes in dead last. The seven top characteristics of success at Google are all soft skills: being a good coach; communicating and listening well; possessing insights into others (including others different values and points of view); having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues; being a good critical thinker and problem solver; and being able to make connections across complex ideas.”

The study doesn’t claim that STEM skills aren’t important (they are, especially if you plan to work in a related field). But don’t forget to develop your human skills, too.

A simple way to stand out in class

Here’s a simple way to stand out in class.

1. Pick a course where class participation is not part of your grade.
2. Participate.

Raise your hand. Ask genuine questions. Respond to queries from your teacher. Engage. Show that you’re interested, that you genuinely want to understand, and that you respect the transaction of teaching and learning that’s taking place.

Simple, effective, and great fodder for a future letter of recommendation.

Should learning embrace kids’ mistakes?

The Greater Good Science Center based at UC Berkeley sponsors scientific research into social and emotional well-being, and helps educators, families, and leaders apply the findings to their own lives. Their recent piece, Why We Should Embrace Mistakes in School, shares some compelling findings showing that the best way to set students up for long-term learning and success is not to praise their ability to get the right answer, but to acknowledge and even praise their mistakes along the way.

The notion of somehow rewarding failure can be difficult for many parents and students to embrace, especially when you’re immersed in a college-bound culture that often feels like anything short of perfection somehow falls short.

But if you read the findings with an open mind, you’ll see that the recommendations actually help raise—not lower—expectations, aspirations, and potential. And when kids learn to see the value in the effort over the outcome, they’re better prepared to attack scenarios that don’t have a right answer, and better positioned for a world where there is no such thing as straight A’s in life.

Sometimes the old-fashioned way is best

If you’re hoping to get the most out of a class, a meeting, and other interactions, you’re better off relying on a good old pen and paper than you are your laptop.

From the New York Times:

“The research is unequivocal: Laptops distract from learning, both for users and for those around them. It’s not much of a leap to expect that electronics also undermine learning in high school classrooms or that they hurt productivity in meetings in all kinds of workplaces…. The best evidence available now suggests that students should avoid laptops during lectures and just pick up their pens. It’s not a leap to think that the same holds for middle and high school classrooms, as well as for workplace meetings.”

Is distraction harming your work?

Just how much do interruptions like phone calls and emails negatively affect you and your work? Quite a bit, according to The Economist’s recent “Are digital distractions harming labour productivity?”:

“Conducting tasks while receiving e-mails and phone calls reduces a worker’s IQ by about ten points relative to working in uninterrupted quiet. That is equivalent to losing a night’s sleep, and twice as debilitating as using marijuana. By one estimate, it takes nearly half an hour to recover focus fully for the task at hand after an interruption.”

Unplug, relax, recharge

The research just keeps showing that working longer and harder produces inferior results not just in terms of quality, but also quantity. In fact, active rest—intentionally carving out downtime to relax and recharge—is a secret weapon of some of the most prolific producers.

As quoted in the BBC’s “The compelling case for working a lot less,” author Josh Davis points out:

“Even US founding father, Benjamin Franklin, a model of industriousness, devoted large swathes of his time to being idle. Every day he had a two-hour lunch break, free evenings and a full night’s sleep. Instead of working non-stop at his career as a printer, which paid the bills, he spent ‘huge amounts of time’ on hobbies and socializing. ‘In fact, the very interests that took him away from his primary profession led to so many of the wonderful things he’s known for, like inventing the Franklin stove and the lightning rod,’ writes Davis.”

You can’t be on all the time. Unplug. Relax. Recharge.

Attitude changes everything

Our attitude is one of our most potent tools. It’s difficult to imagine one thing you have more control over that can also create as much positive impact for you and for the people around you. And best of all, it’s a tool that everyone has equal access to. Attitude doesn’t care what your GPA or test scores are, whether you’re rich or poor, where you went to college, or whether you can run fast, speak to large audiences, solve differential equations, or write publishable work. It’s there, just waiting to be unleashed.

What if you made the choice today, tomorrow, and every day after that to:

Be kind

Assume good intentions

Engage more meaningfully

Be hopeful

Recognize what’s good about other people

Be curious

Keep an open mind

Choose optimism


Withhold judgement

Be grateful

Notice what’s gone right

Be patient

Every one of them is a choice. Maybe not an easy one, but none of us are hardwired to do or not do these things.

If you really did them, imagine how much improvement you’d see in your happiness, relationships, job, schooling, and yes, even your chances of admission to college.

The tool is right there, just waiting to be used. And the choice you make to use it could change everything.

Make it a little better

There’s a lot of wisdom in this pithy passage from one of my favorite management books:

“When you enter your place of work, you never leave it at zero. You either make it a little better or a little worse. Make it a little better.”

It also applies when you swap “place of work” with school, classroom, rehearsal, dinner with your family, etc.