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Measuring Accomplishment and Branding

July 6, 2010
A friend of mine asked a really good question on Facebook: “I am at a loss to understand why it is important to differentiate intelligence with accomplishment, especially in the arena of American industry. And then, to close the coffin lid on the point, we need to understand that ‘high’ adds to the inverse ratio under discussion.
If it is true (and I suspect it might be) why do we then look to graduates of universities with names we associate (however falsely) with intelligence to accomplish things?”
My answer:
I think we humans use any kind of cue to assess the value of something. That’s why branding works. Just as someone who has a clean appearance and speaks in an articulate fashion is going to be more trusted initially than others. We try (whether we know it or not) to use this shorthand from gut reactions all the way up to deciding multi-million dollar contracts and mates. Any human knowledge is based on those that go before us, such as science is just one body of work based on the previous.
So reputation of schools is the slow accumulation of research, successful alumni, and funding, and social networks (literally old school). Schools supposedly strive to be a little more impartial than businesses or politicians for acknowledging the gainful achievement of individual knowledge.
I think universities represent a best effort at applying such a standard. But with all standards, our expectations usually move ahead while the standard may not measure effectiveness or applicability quite as well.  I am truly saddened by examples such as George Bush who consistently circumvent such trust systems and show the weaknesses of such a system. But that’s the neat
thing about standards, hopefully, they rise too.
So the short answer I guess is, what else are you going to use?
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