Chasing Stars: A book review by Bob Morris

Chasing StarsChasing Stars: The Myth of Talent and the Portability of Performance
Boris Groysberg
Princeton University Press (2010)

How and why the productivity of some people “massively outstrips that of their colleagues”

I cannot recall a prior time in U.S. business history when competition for talent was more severe than it is now and all indications suggest that it will become even more so in months and years to come. I know of no organization that has ever had “too much talent.” It is also true that all organizations need effective leadership and management at all levels and in all areas of operation, although “Stars” or “Superstars,” “Peak Performers,” “A Players,” “Level Fivers,” etc. may not always be available to provide it. What to do? Organizations seem to have two primary options: Develop the talent needed from among its current workforce or hire it from another organization. Some organizations exercise both options, depending on the given needs.

What we have in this volume is an abundance of information, insights, and counsel that can be if incalculable value to those who are in urgent need of understanding what Boris Groysberg characterizes as “the phenomenon of stardom — of performers whose productivity massively outstrips that of their colleagues.” Opinions are divided on numerous talent development issues. What drives outstanding performance? To what extent are skills portable or employer-specific in terms of the value and impact of their effective application? Groysberg wrote this book in response to these and other questions, each of which has profound implications both for organizations and for individuals.

These are among the articles or passages of greatest interest and value to me, also listed to suggest the range of subjects that are explored with rigor and eloquence:

o How the performance of stars differs from that of the merely competent (Pages 28-30)
o The Price of Leaving: What the Data Reveal 63-68)
o Firms That Foster General Human Capital (95-100)
o Stars in New Roles: Exploitation versus Exploration (133-137)
o How Star Women Build Research Franchises (169-180)
o Membership in the Wall Street Research Departments (203-207)
o Patterns of Turnover, The Drivers of Turnover, and Types of Turnover (241-251)
o The Challenges of Entrepreneurship (265-271)
o Probability Analysis (315-319)
o Determinants of Portability (323-324)
o Habits of Mind (334-336)
o Implications for Employers (336-337)
o Implications for Individual Careers (337-341)

The best business books tend to be research-driven and that is certainly true of Chasing Stars as 82 pages of annotated notes (Pages 353-435) clearly indicate. I also commend Groysberg on his skillful use of dozens of “Exhibits,” “Figures,” and “Tables” that supplement his lively as well as eloquent narrative. They highlight and correlate key points when supplementing the narrative, thereby helping Groysberg to achieve his objective: to “enrich the conceptual vocabulary available to forms and individual professionals, as well as to scholars. [His book] will have done its job if it has offered new concepts useful to thinking about job performance, competitive advantage, human-capital strategies and consequences, portability, mobility, hiring, retention, compensation, and the nature of talent. Helping make these complex phenomena amenable to systematic, realistic, and strategic thinking and the lessons of experience.”

No brief commentary such as mine can possibly do full justice to the scope and diversity of material in Chasing Stars but I hope that I have at least suggested why I think so highly of it and its author. Also, I hope that those who read this commentary will be better prepared to determine whether or not they wish to read the book and, in that event, will have at least some idea of how the information, insights, and counsel provided by Boris Groysberg could perhaps be of substantial benefit to them as well as to their own organization.

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