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Summer Lecture and Reception - Understanding Potential: Are we looking in the wrong place?
7 June 2017

London

Anyone who thought they understood the Nature versus Nurture debate should attend this event when Oliver James will challenge orthodoxy in asserting the vital role of parental influence and early experiences. Whilst based on early experience, the relevance and implications for the techniques of the HR professional is profound.

It’s a fact that no genes, or collections thereof, have been found to explain more than tiny (1-5%) amounts of heritability for psychological traits – intelligence, personality, mental illness. This gulf between the findings of twin studies and direct ones of genetic variants was dubbed the ‘missing heritability’ in a 2009 paper published in Nature.

If genes seem less relevant to intelligence or motivation, parenting is emerging as increasingly more significant. It’s not just the publicised evidence that exceptional skills require 10,000 hours of deliberate practice, nor the fact that one third of exceptional achievers (including British Prime Ministers and American Presidents) lost a parent before age 14. For anyone, the mixture of childhood maltreatment, role in the family script and the amount and kind of love received in the early years emerge as critical.

If we really want to understand the potential performance of our workforce, we need to measure their childhoods every bit as much as the crude conventional tools – the overrated Big 5 personality traits, IQ tests and other cognitive measures. It remains a mystery why HR departments have not been using the Adverse Childhood Experiences instruments.

The future for HR lies in a much more sophisticated analysis of the psychopathology of performance rather than measurement of supposedly inherited competence.

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