Quotable Mumford
A collection of insightful & memorable offerings from the work of Dr. Mumford.

Home: Editorial
Key Learnings: Bridging Creativity and Systems Thinking
The Work: The Assessment and Development of High Level Talent
Book Review: Pathways to Outstanding Leadership
Book Review: Leadership 101

The Assessment and Development of Highlevel Talent

  Life History Path as a Tool for Understanding Career Development

Creative Thinking Skills
Leadership Skills
Workplace Structure
Life History Path


Mumford and Owens (1987) is a review of background data measures. The article introduces the topic by stating “the use of background data is predicated on the hypothesis that an individuals’ past behavior and experiences are a potential predictor of future behavior and experiences” (p. 1). This thought, is the basis for using background data measures for predictors of work performance.

In its review and critique of the background data literature, the article examines the four principal methods for scaling background data items: rational scaling, factorial scaling, empirical keying, and subgrouping.

Overall, the studies discussed above indicate that membership in background data subgroups is an effective predictor of a variety of educational and occupational criteria, and thus may well provide the general predictive system that was desired. Further, the available evidence indicates that subgroup status may be as effective a predictor as well-developed ability tests and background data factors… (p. 24)

While the strengths and weaknesses of each are discussed, this analysis of subgroups provides a transition to a discussion of Stokes, Mumford, and Owens (1989) which indentifies subgroups of individuals with similar patterns of behaviors and experiences at two points in time, adolescence and young adulthood.

Our research has established the utility of the biodata-based subgroups to differentiate individuals on a number of variables not included in the original empirical development of the groups.  Moreover, evidence was presented that indicated that some subgroups with similar adolescent experiences follow predictable paths into adulthood. (p. 541)

The last three chapters of Mumford (2006) are devoted to topics related to life history as it relates to outstanding leadership. It looks at:

  • Originating events
  • Turning point events
  • Anchoring events
  • Analogous events
  • Redemption events
  • Contaminating events

The research shows the formative nature of these events in the lives of leaders.

“It was found that (Benjamin) Franklin identified problems based on practical need, analyzed causes carefully, generated contextually appropriate low-cost implementation strategies, and built the support needed for demonstration projects.”

(Mumford, 2002, p. 253)