Tag Archives: Michael Norton

Paradox of Potential vs Achievement in Job Search

Zachary Tormala

Zachary Tormala

When hiring or promoting, the person’s potential can trump actual accomplishments, according to Stanford’s Zakary Tormala, with Jayson Jia of University of Hong Kong and Harvard’s Michael Norton.

Jayson Shi Jia

Jayson Shi Jia

The paradox of potential occurs because possibility seems to engender greater interest and cognitive effort due to its uncertain outcome, in examples ranging across:

  • Basketball player evaluations,
  • Hiring decisions,
  • Salary offers,
  • Graduate school admissions recommendations,
  • Judgments of artistic talent,
  • Intentions to visit an untried restaurant.
Michael Norton

Michael Norton

Tormala and team demonstrated this effect by presenting identical statistics for a hypothetical NBA basketball player, then describing the data “predictions” or as “actual performance.”
Participants were more likely to judge that the player would become an All-Star player when they viewed “predicted” statistics rather than “actual” performance records.

Volunteers also evaluated a job applicant more favorably when the person performed well on an “Assessment of Leadership Potential rather than on an “Assessment of Leadership Achievement.”

Tormala’s group extended the investigation to evaluate impact of an upcoming comedian’s ”accomplishment” compared with “potential” when they posted different Facebook advertisements:

  • “Critics say he has become the next big thing”
  • “Critics say he could become the next big thing.”

The “potential” ads produced more than three times more click-throughs and five times more fan ratings.

In other studies, Tormala and team compared descriptions of an achievement and potential:

  • “This person has won an award for his work”
  • “This person could win an award for his work.”

“Potential” stimulated greater interest and cognitive information processing, resulting in more favorable reactions to the target person.

Derek Rucker

Derek Rucker

With Stanford colleague Daniella Kupor and Derek D. Rucker of Northwestern University, Tormala and Norton found that the preference for potential disappeared for people who don’t like uncertainty, and in situations that require higher degrees of certainty.

They noted that when people thoughtfully consider challenging decisions, such as in a Blackjack game, bystanders form positive impressions of others and become more willing to be influenced by them.
However, observers form negative opinions of people who “overthink” simple choices (demonstrate lack “thought calibration”), and are less willing to be influenced by them.

The appeal of potential applies to abstract enjoyable experiences, according to Southern Methodist University’s T. Andrew Poehlman and George Newman of Yale.

T Andrew Poehlman

T Andrew Poehlman

They found that the lure of “potential” makes people more likely to “consume inferior performances” in the present, but may not enjoy them.

Poehlman and Newman argued that “potential” is less influential when experienced in the past, and is less attractive when potential is associated with utilitarian dimensions.

George Newman

George Newman

These findings point to the value of:

  • Positioning one’s own “potential” as well as others’ “potential” to increase persuasiveness of support and advocacy,
  • Considering whether candidates with “potential” seem more appealing than those with greater experience – and whether potential is the appropriate selection criterion.

-*How frequently do you see people hired, promoted, and rewarded for “potential” instead of actual achievement?

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Happiness-Money Connection: Halo Effect of Happy Mood? Part 2

Daniel Kahneman

Daniel Kahneman

The Happiness-Money Connection: Halo Effect of Happy Mood? Part 1 outlined studies by Nobel Prize winner and psychologist Daniel Kahneman, with Angus Deaton and by British researchers Jan-Emmanuel De Neve and Andrew Oswald, documenting the long-term positive impact of subjective positive emotions on life outcomes including academic attainment, employment status, and income over time.Michael Norton’s research added the insight that money can buy happiness – if it’s used for other people.

Taken together, these findings point to the value of cultivating positive emotional states.

Martin Seligman

Martin Seligman

Distinguished psychologist Martin E. P. Seligman was one of the first researchers to empirically investigate correlates of happiness and well-being, and his recent book,

Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being recasts his


earlier emphasis on Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment.
He opined that “well-being” is a more accurate concept, defined by the acronym PERMA:

  • Positive Emotion
  • Engagement
  • Relationships
  • Meaning
  • Accomplishment

Authentic Happiness

Though this is largely a conceptual model, he offers several exercises like considering one’s “signature strengths” and “three blessings” or things that have gone well during a day.

Sonja Lyubomirsky of UC Riverside synthesized happiness-enhancing recommendations from self-help books in The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want,  and provided familiar happiness-enhancing strategies:The How of Happiness

  • Cultivate optimism, consciously stop negative thoughts
  • Avoid “overthinking“, social comparison
  • Practice kindness
  • Invest time in social relationships, family
  • Develop coping strategies
  • Forgive self, others
  • Increase “flow” experiences, do enjoyable things
  • Savor life’s joyful experiences
  • Live in the present
  • Commit to goals
  • Organize space, work, life
  • Participate in religious or meditative practice
  • Keep self-reflection Journals

The Happiness Project

Gretchen Rubin combined some of these recommendations with erudite references to great philosophers’ and thinkers’ guidance, health recommendations, and time-tested common sense in The Happiness Project.

Daniel Gilbert of Harvard’s bestseller, Stumbling on Happiness , synthesized social science research about imagined expected future outcomes and control over them in relation to the experience of happiness.Stumbling on Happiness

He noted that human imagination and prediction are inaccurate, so he suggested using “surrogates” of future events to more accurately test future satisfaction with real-life choices like having children, moving to a new home, or working in a new job.

Other ways to cultivate the Emotional Intelligence capabilities of positive emotional experience are highlighted in related Posts:

-*How have you cultivated happiness?
-*How have happiness and money been related in your experience?

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Happiness-Money Connection: Halo Effect of Happy Mood? Part 1

Daniel Kahneman

Daniel Kahneman

“(More) Money can’t buy (more) happiness” has been demonstrated in a research study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by Nobel Prize winner and psychologist Daniel Kahneman, with Angus Deaton.

They analyzed more than 450,000 responses to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, a daily survey of 1,000 US residents conducted by the Gallup Organization, and distinguished two elements of “subjective well-being” or happiness:

  • Emotional well-being – Frequency and intensity of joy, stress, sadness, anger, and affection,leading to pleasant or unpleasant quality of life, measured by Cantril’s Self-Anchoring Scale of yesterday’s emotional experiences
  • Life evaluation – Subjective assessment of one’s life.

They found that as emotional well-being rises with income up to about $75,000 in 2010 US dollars, then does not continue increasing with higher income levels.
In addition, daily emotions were predicted by health status, care giving, loneliness, and smoking.

Life evaluation increased as income and education increased, and the study confirmed that low income exacerbates the emotional pain associated with divorce, ill health, and being alone.

Michael Norton

Michael Norton

In fact, Michael Norton of Harvard Business School found that volunteers’ happiness increased with more money only when they spent money on others.

Replicated in Canada, Uganda, Rwanda, and other countries, his research found that happiness increases when people:

  • Select experiences over things
  • Spend money on others, regardless of the amount of money spent

 He concluded that money can buy happiness when it’s spent on other people and experiences in Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending … a worthwhile reminder in this season of gift-giving.
Norton’s TED talk

British researchers investigated longitudinal connections between happiness and money, and found that people who express more positive emotions as teenagers have more positive life outcomes as adults, including higher education and income.

Jan-Emmanuel De Neve of University College London and Andrew Oswald of

Jan-Emmanuel De Neve

Jan-Emmanuel De Neve

University of Warwick  analyzed Carolina Population Center’s National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (“Add Health”) profiles of more than 10,000 Americans at ages 16, 18 and 22 and  their annual incomes at age 29.

De Neve and Oswald controlled for education level, IQ, height and self-esteem, all known to contribute to financial success.

Reported in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, they found that those who express more positive emotions in their teen years, reported greater life satisfaction and optimism as young adults, were more likely to earn a university degree, secure employment, advance to higher-level roles, and have higher incomes by age 29.

The survey assessed life satisfaction on a 5-point scale, and found that an increase of 1-point at age 22 made translated to a $2,000 difference in later income measured in in 2012 US dollars, and the later income difference between the happiest and unhappiest participants was $8,000 by the same measure.

Andrew Oswald

Andrew Oswald

DeNeve and Oswald validated the finding by comparing about 3,000 sibling pairs who shared the same parents and socioeconomic status.
They found that the happier siblings also had more positive emotions and life evaluation than less-happy participants.

One explanation of these findings is that observers generalize positive impressions of people who display more positive emotions in a “halo effect”, so these happier individuals are seen as more likeable, competent and attractive, and are offered more opportunities for education, employment, and social relationships.

These findings suggest the importance of increasing the “Emotional Intelligence” competencies of emotional self-regulation.
See The Happiness-Money Connection: Halo Effect of Happy Mood?Part 2 for research-based recommendations on developing happiness and well-being.

-*How do you view the connection between happiness and money?

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