Did Seth Godin Just Pen the Perfect College Admissions Letter? Stockbrokers Take Note…

In one of Seth’s posts this week, he notes that if your job is one of detecting and selecting, for example, college admissions or stock picking, the data shows that while it’s possible to be worse than average at such tasks, it’s almost impossible to do consistently better than the average. To believe you’re doing more than random guessing in such situations is “helpful fiction”, according to Godin.

He then notes it would be much more honest, efficient, (and kind – my words) for colleges to include the following in its letter to applicants who meet the college’s criteria for admission:

“you’re good enough, but there aren’t enough slots, so we’re going to pick randomly.”

Godin states that a randomly selected class of qualified people is going to be just as high achieving as any other combination they could create.

He then closes his post by saying that there’s no reason to be upset if you weren’t chosen by a college that used such a process since it’s completely random who was accepted among the qualified candidates.

I agree that including such a sentence would be a much more honest approach to college admissions, but I don’t see college admissions officers doing so. If they did, how would they be able to justify the work that they do?

It’s the same with stockbrokers.

Can you imagine someone trying to build a client base by sending out a letter that tells potential investors:

“I am going to build a portfolio of stock recommendations based on throwing darts at the stock listings in the Wall Street Journal.”

Who would trust their money to such a broker?

Well, I would for one.

I’d be impressed with their honesty, and their sense of humor (and hopefully, their low cost…)


28 thoughts on “Did Seth Godin Just Pen the Perfect College Admissions Letter? Stockbrokers Take Note…

  1. This post reminds me of the sports guy on the radio (his name escapes me) who tells you about which side of the betting line he favors using all of these trends and statistical analysis. Then, just to show that he doesn’t take it too seriously, he flips a penny to compare his picks with the randomness of a penny. Many times the penny is more accurate than him, which further solidifies Seth’s hypothesis.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. great analogy; the coin flip is like Beth’s dog. Many times these sorts of choices have relatively random outcomes, so why not use a random process to do the selection. Don’t pretend that you have more insight than you do…


  2. it would be refreshing, wouldn’t it, and perhaps we wouldn’t take our rejections/losses so personally? one of our most esteemed sports writers used to use his dog to predict the super bowl winners each year. i’m going to say that his dog had a better record of predicted wins than he did, with all of the stats and info than he did.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Haha, Jim. Terence has no freedom over investment issues and we also have a financial advisor who I interrogate. South Africa is old fashioned and this poor chap is not used to such ill treatment at the hands of a woman. BTW, my choices are doing better and usually do.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. it helps that you have a financial background – and your financial adviser, besides the whole woman issue, probably isn’t used to dealing with someone who knows as much as he does.

      The big question – are your investment choices doing better than the Wall Street Journal monkey? 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well, our choices were fairly good. I won’t touch anything in leisure and entertainment right now. We are going to leap into the industrial revolution now so maybe IT stocks and mining companies in Canada and Australia where they are all high-tech.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I guess it would have been nice to own shares in Netflix before the pandemic hit! Interesting to hear about the mining companies in Canada and Australia – you are truly a global investor!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. “Godin states that a randomly selected class of qualified people is going to be just as high achieving as any other combination they could create.”

    A lottery or random selection is very honest and impersonal which I agree are very commendable. But disagree with Goodin’s statement if I understand it correctly. The definition of qualified is key as well as the ability to be selective. Going to a totally random selection process would make all schools and all school sports teams average.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. well different schools would have different standards; so the Ivy League schools might have higher academic admissions standards than some smaller state schools, so there would be differentiation that way. Buy you are right, if all the Ivy Leagues have the same admissions standards, and they randomly accept all students who meet such standards, then they would likely all create equivalent entering classes. (and I would guess they are pretty equivalent right now, even with the millions they likely spend on creating their freshmen classes in a non-random way) What would distinguish such students at the end of four years would be the quality of the education they receive while they are there. And as for sports, as much as I love sports, I wouldn’t want sports to have any influence over the admissions process. If you create a group of average sports team, again what will distinguish them is the quality of the coaching, which seems like a good way to do it.

      But you do give me food for thought on this, the above are just my initial thoughts…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Goodin would randomly select faculty and coaches from the pool of candidates who meet the desired minimum qualifications. So on the whole faculty and coaches might be average too. I am under the illusion that skill can beat random – except in Vegas.

        I agree as far as stockbrokers. Doing random probably works out better in the long run especially if there are no fees. It would take guts though.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I think on the whole faculty and coaches and students are average, but that still allows for a wide range of abilities. I don’t know much about Vegas, but I always thought that skill was a game of skill…

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I would choose that stockbroker too!
    I think that approach would be much easier on college applicants to hear, but yes, don’t see it happening. But one never knows there may be a college administrator out there with a sense of humor. 🙂
    Talking about humor, did you see the comment I added to your movie post? I was commenting on a reply you made to a reader. I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. at one point there was a t least one college admn with a sense of humor they accepted me..
      and thanks for letting me know about your other comment, I was not aware of it. It was ridiculous… 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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