Organizations in all professional fields strive to identify people who can reach highest levels of achievement. Achievement in a certain domain may come from two distinct sources: perseverance and hard work (striving) or from natural talent, a predisposition that some people have and others do not. A commonly shared belief is that high achievement is a combination of natural talent and striving to apply it.
Do we judge people who work hard in the same way as people who have a natural ability as entrepreneurs? Do these judgments affect our hiring decisions? These are questions a recent study by Chia-Jung Tsay (2016) investigated.
We perceive natural talent as superior, and believe that naturally talented people achieve better outcomes compared to hard workers. Someone who is naturally talented can increase achievements by working harder, but someone who is working hard cannot gain natural talent. Thus, naturals are perceived to have better potential for improvement compared to strivers, which is important because potential achievements may be valued more than actual achievements. Naturals seem better at what they do, and their achievement is considered more authentic and admirable.
Strivers are seen as having less potential because their current achievements are due to hard work, for which they may lack the resources in the future. However, in a future that is challenging, strivers may be preferred because they have a record of hard work that shows they can persevere despite adversity.
Contrary to people’s perceptions, persevering and striving for success is more likely to lead to success than natural inclination or talent. However, results of three experiments show that across domains, people judged people who seem naturally talented more favorably, even in spite of objective information about the quality of their achievement. People use shifting criteria to justify their instinctive preferences in hiring decisions, without being aware that they are not consistent in how they choose.
When evaluating entrepreneurs with similar achievements who are described as either naturally talented or as hard workers, participants favored the „naturals”. Evaluators were willing to accept costs to themselves through the hiring of a less-qualified individual and gave up, on average, 4.5 years of leadership experience, 8.5 % of management skills, 29 points in IQ, and $35.000 capital in order to invest in an entrepreneur who was identified as a natural. Novice and expert evaluators are equally likely to be affected by the naturalness bias.
Thus – as take away, it is worthwhile for decision makers and evaluators to become aware of how information about the source of someone’s achievement can bias decisions in any context where we evaluate others. There are some solutions for overcoming the naturalness bias, such as using precise and tangible ways of assessing achievement, presenting evaluators with examples of high achievers who are naturals and who are hard workers, allowing evaluators to take enough time and invest cognitive resources in making decisions in order to override their instinctive preferences, or eliminating information about source of achievement from profiles.
This article is based on the work of Chia-Jung Tsay: Privileging Naturals Over Strivers: The Costs of the Naturalness Bias, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 2016, pp. 40-53.