Who’s Your Posse?


Predicting individual success is an immensely tricky business, because we have such powerful instincts about how best to do it. We intuitively hunt for performance metrics — test scores, sprint times, sales numbers. And, very often, we’re wrong.

The plain fact is, we humans are reliably terrible judges of talent. The majority of our can’t-miss prodigies do, in fact, miss. And the majority of successful people seem, to our eyes, to come out of nowhere.

The reason for this is that talent is not linear; it’s complex. It’s not about a number; it’s about an invisible landscape that emerges from the interaction of person and environment — the squishy yet vastly important combination of passion, grit, opportunity, and character that can’t be summed up in a single measure.

Or can it?

I recently read a story that might give us a new way to peek inside that landscape. It’s about the Posse Foundation, a group that helps students who might not otherwise get into elite colleges — in other words, dynamic kids from tough neighborhoods with low SAT scores who want to attend Middlebury, Stanford, or the like.

It works like this: Posse Scholars attend college in groups of 10 or so — a little team. During their academic careers they  meet weekly, support each other, connect to other scholars who’ve graduated, help each other get past the obstacles of life. Despite their relatively low SAT scores, 90 percent of Posse Scholars graduate, half on the dean’s list. Nearly 80 percent found or led groups and clubs. They’re helping colleges to rethink the outdated conventions of admission, and the rest of us rethink the way we think about finding talent.

When you start to look, these kinds of posses are everywhere. What are talent hotbeds, but organically grown posses? What are great schools, but institutionalized posses? What are great sports teams or musical groups, or businesses, but posses? And like any posse, they add a crucial mix of ingredients to the talent landscape: models, support, identity, constantly renewed ignition. They perform the most crucial function in the talent process: they fill our windshield with versions of our future self.

So when it comes to identifying talent, the question is not, What’s your score?

Maybe the real question is, Who’s your posse?

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12 Responses to “Who’s Your Posse?”

  1. Mel says:

    Wow! First, THANK YOU! I can relate deeply to this.

  2. Mel says:

    Wow! This is a real eye opener. I’m glad someone has finally identified this.

  3. Will says:

    You, Mr. Coyle, are a member of my posse.

  4. djcoyle says:

    That is an honor. Thanks, Will.

  5. Rod Roth says:

    I visited Princeton U. a few years ago (long after my college years). Visitors are given a tour and, among other things, are shown the small study rooms where upperclassmen hold study hours to mentor the underclassmen assigned to them. Heck of a good idea: the school’s objective is for all students to graduate. As for the upperclassmen–“To teach is to learn twice.” I wish this had been the way my college career had been organized.

  6. Taj Osman says:

    It sounds like what Rafe esquith(and many great educators)is doing in his room56. Simple technique but powerful outcome.
    Thanks for sharing!
    You too, & Rafe, are my posse.

  7. Walter says:

    Being a soccer coach we do this a lot too. A group of 16 is broken down into 4 groups of 4 or 3 groups of 5 each with their own coach and each working on a seperate skill. Kids then rotate around. We found that 4-5 in a group or posse, seems to have way better development and this is something we’ve figured out in the last 5 years or so. Smaller groups also allow more touches on the ball, weakness are discovered where as in a bigger group of 16 some kids with flaws are hidden and a bigger group has less touches on the ball and the kids are less involved. Nice write up Dan!

  8. Doc says:

    As a coach for many years I never understood when someone made the statement that they played “over their head” or “beyond their capabilities”. It just made sense to me that if they did it, they were capable of it and the problem was that they hadn’t learned to execute their capabilities all of the time. I might stand on a par 3 with a pro golfer and hit my tee shot inside of his or hers. The problem is that I won’t do it again for 50 to 100 shots because I haven’t learned to consistently play at that level. I think the great thing about the posse idea is that the group teaches each member to play up to their abilities more consistently (physical or mental)and can then gain the confidence to do it on their own at some point. Excellent concept, I had not heard of it before.

  9. Jon Harnum says:

    Another great post, Dan. Reminds me of the talk about the influence of social networks on behaviors (a TED talk by Nicholas Christakis: http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/nicholas_christakis_the_hidden_influence_of_social_networks.html).

    But it also makes me think of musicians. Many of us, jazzers, rockers, punkers, hip hop, whatever, often form together in little posses of four to six or seven, and it’s a great means of support and learning and sustenance. It’s good to know somebody’s got your back, and especially good if that person will kick you in the butt now and then.

    Thanks for these ideas.

  10. Candice says:

    As always…. LOVE LOVE LOVE your posts!! So much useful information. A project I’m working on is to begin using Learner Group Sessions. But the very valuable point raised here is I need to bring in more role-models and people who have successfully walked the path to share. Thanks for your valuable contribution to learning. I like to think of you, Ralfe, Marva Collins and Coach Wooden as the posse I draw on regularly.

  11. As a high performance golf coach I prepare serious and ambitious golfers to compete on a professional golf tour so when I read this latest post I could certainly relate to it.

    Dan we encourage our golfers to work in small performance groups and as they go through their daily training routines they encourage each other to strive to break through their performance barriers.

    Golf is not really a team sport however our golfers are helping one another to achieve their dream of one day playing golf on a professional golf tour which could be at a minimum 3 to 5 years away.

    Really enjoy your posts Dan and loved the book.

  12. Cody Groves says:

    You have such great posts, what a great idea and story. It makes me curious to your research methods, how do you consistently come up with such great posts? I know your probably humble but I would love to know :~)

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