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COGNITIVE PROCESSING SPEED - Everyone Wants Talent That Is Fast On The Uptake...

On some client calls late last week and everyone wants candidates who are "fast on the uptake."

This just in - "slow on the uptake" is not desired in today's world.  Go figure. Brain freeze

To try and figure this out on candidates, we're using an assessment that has a timed cognitive portion.  Best way I can describe it is cognitive processing speed.  It's not IQ, because you can score low on our cognitive portion and still have an IQ of 140.  The cognitive portion we use throws a bunch of items at you, and it's timed.

It measures your ability to deal with a lot of incoming data in short period of time and make quick, accurate decisions.  

Totally unscientific, but my observations about candidates, even great candidates, who score in the bottom half of the bell curve for cognitive processing speed are pretty consistent.

Those candidates usually:

1. Have a 2-3 second delay when a lot of data is flying in and they're a part of the conversation.  Someone hits them with data and then stops.  There's a delay.  Their preference is to take their time on the analysis.  The pregnant pause is noticeable.

2. They may have a form of conversational Tourette's, which I define as someone who's trying to process quickly (against their natural preference to take their time and come back later with analysis) blurting out conversational reactions that really don't match the conversation going on.  They've attempted to do things on the fly and their response is just off - the contextual understanding isn't there.  They needed more time.

Again, it doesn't have to mean low IQ.  Fast on the uptake means you're just naturally wired to take in lots of data and make quick accurate decisions on the fly.  

Remember the days when it was OK to take your time with incoming data?  

Yeah - me neither.


Paul Hebert

While you mention the ability to think quickly and make accurate decisions - I wonder just how accurate and for how long those decisions are accurate.

I wonder though if our focus on "thinking on our feet" has given organizations a form of ADD? Flitting from one idea to the next in the pursuit of being topical and new.

We end up using all our extra processing cycles on fads and short-term ideas rather than assessing which ideas are sustainable. How much energy do we waste being "quick?"

I remember a facilitated strategy session I attended where the facilitator reminded us that some people think to talk and others talk to think. We NEED to make room for those that process before punditry.

I'm not sure if this is good or bad - but I do think we miss a lot of good thinking when we stop stopping to think.

Alan O

As they say on the radio, "Long time listener, first time caller."

Paul is spot on..."thinking quickly" and "making accurate decisions" are two different species of animal.

Every year, psychology, neuroscience, and economics adds to our understanding of how human beings mangage to get things so wrong so consistently...individually or in organizations. And "thinking fast" (not deep)is one of the chief culprits.

For the average reader, books like "Wait" by Partnoy; "Decisive" by Heath/Heath; or "Quiet" by Cain explain some of these mental mechanisms. For the serious, try "Thinking Fast & Slow" by Kahneman.


Hi Guys -

Good thoughts, and reasonable challenges with truth in them for sure...

Two things from my experience -

1. your speed matters more now than it ever has. Whether that's window dressing or not, it matters.

2. Part of how you frame it might lead the reader to think that slower is always better, an absolute that's not the reality either, right?

For what it's worth, the cognitive test we use measures both accuracy and speed. So accuracy matters and speed with accuracy creates the highest score.

Thanks for checking in - KD


I second Paul as well. Glad to hear your check measures accuracy as well. Thinking on your feet under pressure is great for many positions. Being able to weave a good story on the fly may not be as helpful. Different positions require different strengths and sometimes you tailor a position based on a specific "super-strength" a particular individual has.

There are many positions where speed and clarity of communications is absolutely critical (PR jobs for example). If you are the CEO or CFO in a publicly traded company, I think it's essential. I've seen what happens (and felt it in my wallet) when a CEO bobbles a question on the Analyst call.

Have said all that, I have great respect for the guy that says, "let me think on that and get back to you". Then, like Greg Allman, he "brings you back some gold". That's what I want from a guy leading a bunch of engineers.

Once you're exposed as a BS'er or one who believes looking good is better than winning, everything is poisoned.

Speed and accuracy are wonderful. Great BS'ers are great at fast, slick answers so if your test measures both, you can filter out the ones that are only good at looking good.


And just to add some fun to the mix here - when would I want somewhat slower processing speed...for a staff accountant or AP manager who I want to do the same thing, relentlessly every day and not get bored with that....a downside to the antelopes on the speed side.

and to Matt - totally agree with the get back with you thoughts, but I don't necessarily agree that it would mean slower cog, it could be thoughtful & quick processing by the guy about what he knows and not, and realizing he may be about to step off the cliff, so better to pull back and get it right than jump right off.

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