Two brutal tests — can you pass them?

By Tyler Cowen

We all give people “tests” when we meet them, whether we are consciously aware of it or not.  Here are two of mine:

1. The chess test.  When I played chess in my youth, I would commonly analyze games with other players.  You would then rapidly learn just how much and how quickly the other player could figure out the position and see imaginative variations.  Some players maybe had equal or even inferior results to mine (I had a good work ethic and took no drugs), but it was obvious they were greater talents at analysis.  Top chess players who worked with Bobby Fischer also attest that in this regard he was tops, not just “another great player.”  That was true even before he was good enough and steady enough to become world champion.

When talking ideas with people, the same issue surfaces — just how quickly and how imaginatively do they grasp what is going on?  You should put aside whatever they have or have not accomplished.  How much do they have this Bobby Fischer-like capacity to analyze?  No matter what their recent results have been (remember how Efim Geller used to kick Fischer’s butt in actual games?).

2. The art test.  Take a person’s favorite genres of art, music, whatever.  But something outside of their work lives.  Maybe it can even be sports.  How deeply do they understand the said subject matter?  At what kind of level can they talk about it or enjoy it or maybe even practice it?

Remember in Hamlet, how Hamlet puts on a play right before the King’s eyes, to see how the King reacts to “art”?

Here we are testing for sensibility more than any kind of rigorous analysis, though the analysis test may kick in as well.  Just how deep is the person’s deepest sensibility?

If you are investing in talent, you probably would prefer someone really good at one of these tests over someone who is “pretty good” at both of them.

3. All other tests.

Now, people can be very successful while failing both “the chess test” and “the art test.”  In fact, most successful people fail both of these tests.  Still, their kinds of success will be circumscribed.  They are more likely to be hard-working, super-sharp, and accomplished, perhaps charismatic as well, while lacking depth and imaginative faculty in their work.

Nonetheless they will be super-focused on being successful.

I call this the success test.

Now if someone can pass the chess test, the art test, and the success test with flying colors…there are such people!

And if the person doesn’t pass any of those tests, they still might be just fine, but there will be a definite upper cap on their performance.