A fascinating study was just published in International Organization by four researchers at UCSD. The study presents the results of a set of experiments, one of which included 92 high-level policy elites in the United States. The goal was to see whether different personality traits in these elites – especially patience and strategic skills – affected the types of trade agreements they were willing to support. (These policy elites included former member of Congress, Cabinet members, senior officials at key government departments, and heads of strategy of major corporations.)
The most interesting and puzzling finding had to do with the ability of these policy elites to think strategically. The researchers found that leaders who were more patient and more strategic tended to do better in negotiations, but they also found that a “sizable number” had no ability to think strategically; they were unable to visualize even two steps down the game. If these elites were playing chess, they would be trounced by their opponent.
So today’s puzzler is this: Why would any President or corporation appoint a leader whose strategic skills were so poor? And how is it possible for such individuals to rise to the highest ranks of corporate and government decision-making?