Malcom Gladwell’s book Outliers has been one of my break-through books of 2009 in the area of ‘Talent’. If it does anything to the reader, it will surely have them asking deeper questions around what talent is and how we should be assessing for it? It did at least that for me. I’ll confess right up front that I am a Gadwell fan. Yes I have read the critiques on him, and whatever you might say of him, he does one of the best jobs taking some very complex ideas and packaging them for the less educated, complex and deep, like me (and you if you’re honest).

The Wall Street Journal blog has a great article that plays in the ‘Outliers’ space, called Economists Link Athletics to Success in School, Job Markets. Wharton economist Betsey Stevenson has drawn a link between young women entering sports in high school in the US (a law change in 1972, significantly changed the ratio’s of young women in high school sport) and an increase of female college attendance and female labour-force participation.

This article adds, in my mind, to the increasing body of evidence suggesting that how we spot ‘talent’ is more complex than a battery of psychological tests, academic results and personality profiling (no matter how sophisticated they seem). There may be many other, far more robust indicators as to someone’s future value that we don’t know how to interrogate, have forgotten about, or are just not courageous enough to explore?

Title IX’s most pronounced effect was on athletics. Girls’ participation in high school sports went from 1 in 27 in 1972 to 1 in 4 in 1978. But it’s effect wasn’t uniform because states where boys’ participation in athletics was high were forced to increase girls’ participation the most. Ms. Stevenson was able to use the variation between states to tease out the effect of girls participation in sports from other factors. That allowed her to see how playing sports affected girls’ success later in life.

Her conclusion: A 10 percentage-point rise in girls’ participation in high school sports leads to a 1 percentage point increase in female college attendance and a 1 to 2 percentage point increase in female labor-force participation.

Maybe athletics should be added to reading, writing and arithmetic.

Maybe indeed…..

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