One of the top skills we look for in a new hire is the ability to extrapolate (“to infer (an unknown) from something that is known” -Dictionary.com). Can the applicant take a principle learned from one example and apply it to a new situation?
During the interview process, we often ask, “In your previous job, can you give us an example of a problem you solved by applying a principle you discovered in another situation?” Most folks answer with a question, “Like what?” or, “Can you give me an example?” And therein lies the problem.
When people in the boomer generation were growing up, our parents would inevitably say, “Why don’t you kids go outside and play?” We had no video games, no computers, and no electronic toys. Except for bikes, we had very few manufactured toys. We made our own toys, and, in most cases, we made up our own games.
We had to extrapolate. We were forced to be imaginative. We were forced to be resourceful. We were hands on and creative. If anything, our parents were worried that we were watching too much T.V.
We were forced to learn principles first, then apply them to examples. You couldn’t build a toy or make up a game without knowing, or looking for, the principles that made the toy work or the game possible.
But then, the electronic babysitter came along with games and cookie-cutter challenges which the kids quickly mastered. Multiple choice and cut and paste quickly replaced start from scratch, build your own toy, and create your own games. But in the process, something very important was lost: critical thinking.
With the information age came a fixation on all things digital. Basically, imagination took a big hit, resourcefulness took a big hit, and so did extrapolation. Suddenly all your options were clearly described and laid out in front of you. You just had to choose between them.
Kids raised with this multiple choice, copy-and-paste approach could now learn examples without having to know, or even look for, the principles behind them. The problem is that later on in life, they turned into the “like what?” bird, saying “like what” to every request, even when the same principle was at work in two seemingly unrelated situations. Like what became the lazy, knee-jerk, and go-to response that required the least amount of thinking and responsibility.
Too bad business isn’t all prescribed choices. If it was, this dumbed down way of looking at things would work. But situations occur daily that require the application of previously learned principles in totally new situations. Extrapolation is essential for the type of imaginative problem solving that gives you the advantage in the market place.
Why hire a person who can only copy and paste? Why spend unending hours providing examples until they get it? And even then, they only get the example you described.
This is why so many employers are looking for people who will make the training process a breeze and quickly prove that they can create imaginative solutions on the fly – people who willingly and competently take responsibility for jobs where all the answers are not clearly spelled out.
So, if you are a parent, consider what that screen is doing to your kids’ future. If you are one of those kids, take a break and go out and play! If you were raised by computers, look for the principle behind the scenes. Seek it out before you just copy and paste!
Who We Are
Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey co-authored the New York Times bestselling business book, The Barefoot Spirit: How Hardship, Hustle, and Heart Built America’s #1 Wine Brand. The book has been selected as recommended reading in the CEO Library for CEO Forum, the C-Suite Book Club, and numerous university classes on business and entrepreneurship. It chronicles their humble beginnings from the laundry room of a rented Sonoma County farmhouse to the board room of E&J Gallo, who ultimately acquired their brand and engaged them as brand consultants. Barefoot is now the world’s largest wine brand.
Beginning with virtually no money and no wine industry experience, they employed innovative ideas to overcome obstacles, create new markets and forge strategic alliances. They pioneered Worthy Cause Marketing and performance-based compensation. They built an internationally bestselling brand and received their industry’s “Hot Brand” award for several consecutive years.
They offer their Guiding Principles for Success (GPS) to help entrepreneurs become successful. Their book, The Entrepreneurial Culture: 23 Ways To Engage and Empower Your People, helps corporations maximize the value of their human resources.
Currently they travel the world leading workshops, trainings, & keynoting at business schools, corporations, conferences. They are regular media guests and contributors to international publications and professional journals. They are C-Suite Network Advisors & Contributing Editors. Visit their popular brand building site at www.consumerbrandbuilders.com.
To make inquiries for keynote speaking, trainings or consulting, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.